Drone Buoy Drifts Along The Gulf Stream For Citizen Science

It may be named after the most famous volleyball in history, but “Wilson” isn’t just a great conversationalist. [Hayden Brophy] built the free-drifting satellite buoy to see if useful science can be done with off-the-shelf hardware and on a shoestring budget. And from the look of the data so far, Wilson is doing pretty well.

Wilson belongs to a class of autonomous vessels known as drifters, designed to float along passively in the currents of the world’s ocean. The hull of [Hayden]’s drifter is a small Pelican watertight case, which contains all the electronics: Arduino Pro Trinket, GPS receiver, a satellite modem, and a charger for the LiPo battery. The lid of the case is dominated by a 9 W solar panel, plus the needed antennas for GPS and the Iridium uplink and a couple of sensors, like a hygrometer and a thermometer. To keep Wilson bobbing along with his solar panel up, there’s a keel mounted to the bottom of the case, weighted with chains and rocks, and containing a temperature sensor for the water.

Wilson is programmed to wake up every 12 hours and uplink position and environmental data as he drifts along. The drifter was launched into the heart of the Gulf Stream on August 8, about 15 nautical miles off Marathon Key in Florida, by [Captain Jim] and the very happy crew of the “Raw Deal”. As of this writing, the tracking data shows that Wilson is just off the coast of Miami, 113 nautical miles from launch, and drifting along at a stately pace of 2.5 knots. Where the buoy ends up is anyone’s guess, but we’ve seen similar buoys make it all the way across the Atlantic, so here’s hoping that hurricane season is kind to Wilson.

We think this is great, and congratulations to [Hayden] for organizing a useful and interesting project.

26 thoughts on “Drone Buoy Drifts Along The Gulf Stream For Citizen Science

      1. Well, I just tried to help, googling for another URL as the one shown in the video wasn’t working (error 404).

        I would say the URL I provided is “very similar” (equivalent ?) to the one posted by the project team (see their comment and Mike’s reply, at: https://hackaday.com/2020/08/13/drone-buoy-drifts-along-the-gulf-stream-for-citizen-science/#comment-6270686 ).

        May be the antivirus warning is just a “false positive” ?
        If you try with the URL in the article (updated by Mike), do you get the same warning ?

        Best regards,

        A/P Daniel F. Larrosa
        Montevideo – Uruguay

  1. yes, of course science can be done on a shoestring budget what is a very cool thing, but how come hack a day is never really publish any science from say africa on a shoestring budget? (sure they did with the wind turbine kid)

  2. Facebook – please do not use for technical projects – many of us choose not to be involved with this stuff; and in any case, it requires a login to view, so almost seems to be a shill for FB.

    Data site indicates RH sensor failed. My experience with A/F “waterproof” sensors is that they are not – temp sensors consistently failed within 20 days at over 30cm depth in my fresh-water Koi pond and several ‘waterproof’ RH sensors failed on on three of my four weather stations.

    I am not a meteorologist, but am not certain that a sensor 20cm above the ocean is going to provide relevant atmospheric data. I have looked at NOAA weather buoys and the sensor mast package is abut 2m above the water.

      1. That’s cause there not made for 130F heat, right now wilson is sitting on a pier baking. When hes actually in the water all the temp sensors work just fine. -Hayden Brophy

  3. The sailor in me immediately thinks this is very bad idea indeed.

    Ships and boats use the ocean too. This little box is not going to worry a commercial freighter, but this can cause serious damage to sailing or motor vessels. Things like propellers, steering gear & wind vanes can easily be damaged or disabled hitting something like this.

    Boats will almost always maintain a watch (for other vessels and floating debris), but this would be next to impossible to spot and is not going to show up on radar, and likely not FLIR in anything but the calmest of weather.Why use a black box? Orange and yellow are freely available. How about some kind of mast to aid in visibility? Something like a fibreglass whip antenna with a polystyrene ball painted a bright colour would be orders of magnitude and be cheap as chips.

    Kudos to you for your efforts and imagination, but please think through the consequences when you’re releasing your projects out into the environment.

      1. Problem is if you become “responsible” for your flotsam and jetsam especially in busy shipping lanes. It did prevent us from a similar project . As Shane said some basic care in the painting and making visible department would of been useful. I’d also would of liked it to have had it’s own HF radio rather than relying on a Satellite transponder it’s all stuck together modules

        That said he is only a teenager so kudos to him for trying and actually delivering something let hope his next one will be even better !

  4. Kudos for the kid for the project and build. Yes, it ain’t perfect and could have been way better with a few different choices, but it’s still great. But I’m not as happy about the crew that launched it. The restaurant promo and political apparel shouldn’t have been part of the video.

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