Home News Sensorbots to enhance spatiotemporal monitoring of ocean

Sensorbots to enhance spatiotemporal monitoring of ocean

US: A team of researchers, led by Deirdre Meldrum, a senior scientist and Director of the Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, developed Sensorbot, a robot equipped with biogeochemical sensors. It aims to enable continuous spatiotemporal monitoring of key elements in the ocean and the ability to respond to events such as underwater earthquakes and hydrothermal vents.
Meldrum explained the Sensorbot project significantly expands the scope of oceanographic investigations carried out by Biodesign’s Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation. She said, “We are leveraging our automation, sensors, biotechnology and systems expertise to develop unique robots that can be deployed by the hundreds, travel in formation, and communicate together for exploration and discovery. Such research is essential for a more thorough understanding of the multiple systems in the oceans – microbes and other sea life, geology, and chemicals.”
The Sensorbot project is utilising the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatories Initiative – in particular, the Regional Scale Nodes (RSN) project, led by John Delaney, professor at the University of Washington. This far-flung endeavour involves the construction of a cabled underwater observatory in the northeast Pacific Ocean, off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia on the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. This area is home to many dramatic undersea features, including volcanoes and hydrothermal vents – wellsprings of unique life forms. 
The cabled observatory provides high bandwidth and power for real-time oceanographic observations and experiments. These include the study of mineral concentrations, gas compositions, biological blooms, and detailed analyses of extremophiles – organisms flourishing in environments usually considered inhospitable to life. The cabled observatory with high power and bandwidth provides the Sensorbots with the ability to recharge their batteries and download their data, allowing immediate transmission via the internet and making the information available to scientists and educators anywhere in the world.
The current Sensorbots are fist-sized transparent robotic orbs, which communicate via blue flashes of light. The spheres house electronics and batteries, while their surfaces have 3 sensors for measuring pH, temperature or oxygen. Sensorbots report surrounding environmental conditions to the inner electronics that convert the signal into flashes of light, providing a sort of visual Morse code. 
A high-speed camera situated on the seafloor picks up the signals and stores them for later decoding aboard the ship. As sensorbot technology develops, these orbs may blanket large areas of the ocean and transmit information regularly to a central data hub. Ultimately, Sensorbots will be capable of operating in semi-autonomous robotic swarms, moving under remote control, in a 3D geometric formation through precisely controlled volumes of seawater. 
Sensor swarms operating autonomously could function in complex, harsh, and remote environments. With appropriate microanalytical systems mounted on the Sensorbot platforms, these synthetic mariners could perform spatially and temporally indexed genomic analyses of microbial communities, as well as observing a broad variety of macro events. 
Source: asunews.asu.edu