Aug 20, 2015 | By Simon

While we’ve seen how drones can be used for everything from gathering next-generation aerial camera to even a new kind of racing ‘sport’ that pits drone pilots against each other on a closed course, there are still a lot of uses for the technology for making the world a better place beyond great-looking photographs.  

Among others, the team behind Snotbot - including Sir Patrick Stewart himself - want to use their drone design to help research and prevent the death of whales around the world that are the result of human activity.  

Currently in existence as a Kickstarter campaign, the Snotbot initiative is currently raising awareness and funds to purchase and assemble a fleet of drones that can be used on expeditions to help collect samples, record data and provide other information as needed.  

“Tens of thousands of whales are killed or injured every year as a direct or indirect result of human activities,” says the Snotbot team.  

“The health of ocean ecosystems is tied directly to the health of whales. If we continue to lose whales, the results will be disastrous not just for the oceans, but for our entire planet.  We need better technology to understand and document our impact on whales and their habitat. And we need tools that don’t further harm or harass them.”

The custom-built drones, which were created under a partnership between Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering, are designed to hover in the air above a surfacing whale and collect the blow (snot) that is exhaled from its lungs and into the sky. Subsequently, the Snotbot then returns that collected sample back to researchers who are on land or a boat at a significant distance away.

Of course, like many other hardware development projects that have found their way to Kickstarter, the team heavily relied on 3D printing to help develop their final Snotbot design.  

Among other needs, the team needed to simulate a whale’s blowhole in order for the Snotbot to accurately collect the sample.  To do this, the team built a floating testing rig complete with 3D printed scientifically accurate whale blowholes (which they called Snotshot) for realistic at-sea testing.

Additionally, the development of the Snotbot itself involved producing a waterproof (and snotproof) design that was still able to fly while also carrying a number of sensors and collection systems - all factors that would already independently challenging.

With the resulting collected samples from the Snotbot, researchers are able to better monitor virus, bacteria, DNA, hormones and toxins that are in a whale’s system and compare these to human activities that may be happening in a surrounding area.

“At this point we could spend another year or more mired in what we like to call “The Research Industrial Complex.” We'd be chained to our desks, writing grants, and filling out stacks of paperwork with no guarantee of any success in securing the funds we need to get this project accomplished. But with your help we can start collecting this vital data right away,” says the team on their Kickstarter page.  

“The way scientists support their research has become collaborative, and we are part of that change. All over the world innovators and researchers are turning to fellow citizens passionate about their subjects to become involved and have access to the results. For those who love whales, the oceans and who believe in minimally invasive research techniques we’re asking you to join up with us.”

For those interested in helping with the effort, there is even the option to have your name 3D printed onto a plaque that is then placed on one of the Snotbot drones.  As a part of the reward, the team will send a photograph of the Snotbot in the field with your 3D printed name plaque on it.  With less than a week to go, the team has raised just over $100K with a goal of $225K. 

“This Kickstarter supports three expeditions to sites vital to the future survival of whales on our planet,” adds the team.  

“All are locations where Ocean Alliance has significant experience conducting research and where we feel Snotbot will make the greatest impact on our current understanding of these species.”

Find out more about how you can help by heading over to the team’s Kickstarter page.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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