SEA-LABS -- Sensor Exploration Apparatus utilizing Low-power Aquatic Broadcasting System -- may be a bit of an acronymic stretch, but the idea underlying the jargon is rather exciting. SEA-LABS is a student-designed project to use low-power wireless transmission to monitor coral reefs in real-time -- and the technology could be applied to any remote undersea sensor scenario.
Five engineering undergraduates at the University of California, Santa Cruz (disclosure: I did my undergraduate degrees at UCSC) came up with the SEA-LABS design to assist with biological monitoring of the reefs of Midway. The SEA-LABS sensors will be installed this summer, and will make it possible for biologists and oceanographers to keep tabs on coral conditions from thousands of miles away.
The core of SEA-LABS is a Programmable Ocean Device (POD), which consists of a processor, a memory storage component, and a battery that can last up to two years, all housed in a waterproof casing about the size of a small wastebasket. The POD can be bolted to the seafloor near a reef. It must be completely waterproof at depths up to 60 feet and sturdy enough to withstand heavy wave action.The POD has cable connections to sensors that independently record pressure, light, salinity, and temperature. The sensors are small enough to fit in any desired location on or within a reef and can be placed right next to plants, corals, and other reef inhabitants.
The pressure sensors monitor wave patterns, tides, and overall sea levels. Eventually, real-time recordings from these sensors could be used to help detect a tsunami wave.The POD connects to a receiver/transmitter attached to a surface buoy. The transmitter broadcasts the data recorded by the sensors from the POD to a base station on land via a radio antenna.
The PODs can signal to each other using ad hoc networks, meaning that they can remain in contact with researchers even if a base station (or another intermediary POD) goes offline. The "SEA-LABS Manifesto" (PDF) goes into substantial detail about the design of the network, sensors and communication apparatus.
One goal of SEA-LABS is to make these sensors affordable to small research groups. The hardware is off-the-shelf, and the controlling software is "non-proprietary open-access." Each POD should run between $500 and $1,000, and production efficiencies could drive that price down further.
Students, here's your next task: make the SEA-LABS interoperable with the Solar-powered Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute has developed for ocean monitoring.
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