Buoy Defeats Truman

Water sensor technology from the Great Lakes to the Baltic Sea

What has solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, GPS, and copper cables? Hint: it’s not the General Motors Menlo EV, which technically checks all those boxes also.

Water sensor technology, as it is formally known, is being implemented worldwide nowadays, combining some of the cleverest innovations from a cross-section of industries. Let’s start in America’s heartland, where the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS), a network of buoys and underwater probes, has created “Smart Great Lakes” by making it easy for the public and policy makers to access its data. The system is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But what does such a system entail?

There’s also the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Bouy System, based out of an Annapolis, Md., control center, who we can thank for a visual (below right) to start us off. ‘Smart buoys’ combine a base that is half-computer, half solar panel array, and are further outfitted with climate sensors (for temperature and humidity), navigation lights, cellular antennas, anemometers, and GPS satellite transmitters. A full unit is supplied with lithium-ion battery power.

The question is, with such fancy names, how smart are these buoys? Well, for one, they can send out shark alerts, according to Australian tech firm Smart Marine Systems, the manufacturer of ‘Clever Buoy’.

Those particular buoys, which are used in the Great Lakes system, cost $38,000 apiece. For a clear impression of their worth, look no further than their sonar technology that sits on the ocean floor. Each sonar—Navy-class technology—has 120-yard coverage and can identify self-propelled objects in the water. Multiple buoys can be used to cover large swimming areas.

Once an object is identified the system locks onto it and uses an algorithm similar to facial recognition to determine the size of the object and whether it exhibits shark-like movements.

It can identify a shark in the water with greater than 90 percent confidence and immediately alert lifeguards via a mobile application.

Lifeguards get the notification on their smartphones and the system informs them of the shark’s location and the direction it’s traveling. Smart Marine is working on developing technology so the system can determine the species of shark as well.

The sensors on board smart buoys also enable them to measure: wave height, wave period, wave power, water temperature, air temperature, air pressure, voltage, current usage and GPS location. … All the data the buoy collects is sent via radio to a base station.

Internationally, Stockholm’s Norvik Port has a newly installed smart bouy, installed in its shipping fairway just last week. This model is described as “an energy efficient navigation beacon with the technology to position-monitor and remotely adjust the buoy’s light intensity.” The buoy is part of the EU Intelligent Sea project, which is using digitalization to improve safety and efficiency in shipping fairways.

As detailed in the video below, smart bouys and NOAA models are also helping Cleveland prevent a drinking water crisis.

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