Drone Buoy Drifts Along The Gulf Stream For Citizen Science

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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.

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