NETWORK BLUE

Objectives


Network Blue leverages low-cost technology to dramatically lower the cost of ocean science and its accessibility to citizens. Think "Maker Movement meets ocean science".

Students build, deploy and maintain an AusOcean "rig", contributing to a global citizen-science network. This requires a mix of technical skills, communication skills, teamwork skills and more. Furthermore, unlike student competitions in which teams win or lose, with Network Blue the "winner" is our ocean environment. Different schools are encouraged to collaborate, pool their resources and share information.

While Network Blue complements school science and tech (STEM) programs, it potentially appeals to a broad range of students, including those that might not otherwise be interested in STEM. Non-technical learning opportunities span outdoor education, water sports, community engagement, collaborating with and recruiting other schools, fundraising and entrepreneurship, and more.

The AusOcean Community Rig Watch group has been set up on Facebook as an open platform for discussion and ideas sharing between schools, students, communities and partners. Schools are encouraged to share their findings, improved processes and any useful information that may assist other participants.

Challenges

The difficulty of building a rig is within the capabilities of a typical high school, however, the biggest technical challenge is reducing component costs (other than electronics). The harshness of the marine environment demands marine-grade components, which are usually expensive, in particular, waterproof connectors. AusOcean attempts to minimise the use of such connectors by incorporating simple, robust and tested interfaces. The construction requires care as poor craftsmanship may result in leakages. We are exploring innovative ways to further drive down costs through a combination of off-the-shelf components, 3D printing, and specialized assembly processes.

Another challenge is that rigs are vulnerable to failures however, we view these as valuable learning opportunities that drive further technological developments. We have defined standard procedures to reduce the risk of such occurrences, which include detailed construction guides and maintenance schedules for post deployment. Following guides closely is imperative as rig infrastructure is designed to remain at sea for months at a time. Remote monitoring and management (RMM) allows us to observe rig device and software behaviour for performance and diagnostic purposes. We do this via AusOcean's NetReceiver cloud service.

Details

A basic rig, which comprises the pontoons, plaform, mast base, mast tube and mast cap, can be constructed for approximately A$600. Most parts are commonly sourced from hardware stores (e.g., Bunnings or Mitre10), plumbing stores (e.g., TradeLink) or electronics stores (e.g., Jaycar or Core Electronics).

The following table summarises approximate work times:

Assembly task Skills required Hours
Basic rig Drilling metal, screwing, bolting, cutting metal ~6 hours
Control unit Soldering, wiring ~4 hours
Underwater camera Soldering, wiring, drilling PVC, gluing PVC, cutting metal ~2 hours
Nav light Soldering, wiring, drilling PVC, gluing PVC ~1 hour


Students are encouraged to work on different tasks in parallel and use their initiative to spot opportunities and potential research avenues depending on their interests. Furthermore, students can also design and build their own "payload experiments" which are housed inside the rig's mast. Workshops can be tailored to accommodate the needs of schools to achieve specific learning outcomes.

We plan to open the program to more schools in 2021. Please contacts us at inquire(at)ausocean.org for more information.

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