Smartfin lets surfers act as citizen scientists just by catching a wave

It's easy to see that modern ocean exploration has shifted from relying on brave explorers like Jacques Cousteau to autonomous underwater vehicles that can go where no man can. These vehicles are chock full of sensors and cameras, capable of bringing us sights and new discoveries. With these devices, scientists can monitor the health of our oceans far and deep.

There is one weak spot in these robots though. They're not well-suited to research that happens near shore. The surf zone is too shallow and often too turbulent for devices that work farther out, but you know what can handle the surf zone? Surfers.

Dr. Andrew Stern, an ex-neurologist and current executive director of environmental group Lost Bird had the idea that a surf board could be outfitted with sensors that gather important information for scientists to study. He approached Benjamin Thompson, founder of the surf-tech company BoardFormula, which usually makes sensor-packed boards for analyzing surfers' techniques and performance, to see if his company could make it happen.

The result is Smartfin, a surfboard fin that houses sensors for measuring multiple ocean parameters like salinity, pH, temperature, location, and wave characteristics while surfers ride the waves. The data becomes accessible in near real-time, pairing with a smartphone using Bluetooth once the surfer comes ashore. The data collected will be made available to scientists worldwide conducting research and will also be used to raise environmental awareness about the earth's oceans.

The fin, which can be added to any existing surfboard and performs just the same as a regular fin, automatically turns on and starts recording data when movement is detected. The battery is recharged by removing the fin and placing it on a Qi wireless charging pad.

The makers are collaborating with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a leading institute for oceanographic research, to evaluate the different ways the scientific community will be able to use the data it collects. There are plans to commercially produce it shortly after.

Tags: Gadgets | Oceans | Technology

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