Project: Network Blue

Objectives

Background

Scientific knowledge of ocean environments is sparse and intermittent, constrained by the high equipment and access costs of working in the marine environment. Furthermore, knowledge dissemination suffers from the long lead times of scientific publishing (data and findings often being two years out of date by the time they are published) and a lack of open access.

Opportunities

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.

Challenges

Building a rig is well within the capabilities of a typical high school, however the biggest technical challenge is further reducing component costs (other than electronics). The marine environment is harsh and marine-grade components are usually expensive, in particular waterproof connectors. We minimise the use of such connectors by permanently "potting" components together. This requires care as poor craftsmanship can easily result in a rig that takes on water. We are exploring ways to drive down costs through a mix of off-the-shelf components and 3D printing of specialized components.

The biggest non-technical challenge is the approvals process, which varies by maritime jurisdiction. Even where special permits or licenses are not required, there is usually a requirement to file a Notice to Mariners, which is typically a manual application process. AusOcean is the official operator of all rigs, and takes care of the regulatory process.

Details

A basic rig, which comprises the pontoons, plaform, mast base, mast tube and mast cap, can be constructed for approximately A$500. 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). AusOcean supplies the parts list (bill of materials) and schools are responsible for procuring the common parts. AusOcean makes a small number of specialised parts available in kit form, notably the electronics for the control unit.

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, depending on their interests. Students can also design and build their own "payload experiments" which are housed inside the rig's mast. AusOcean plans to supply lesson plans in the second half of 2019.

Partners

Currently we are working with Immanuel College to trial Network Blue. We plan to open the program to more schools in 2019. Please contacts us at inquire(at)ausocean.org.

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