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Ocean Floor Data Transmitted With Help from Lobsters

Research company Gloucester Innovation and the Massachusetts Lobstermen Association are building a network to track the health and conditions of the sea bed, using Sigfox LPWAN transmissions to capture data from sensors mounted in lobster traps.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 20, 2019

Lobstermen are helping to deliver sensor-based insights regarding the health and condition of the ocean floor off the coast of Massachusetts, simply by raising and lowering traps. The Internet of Things (IoT)-based solution leverages the unique access lobstermen have to the bottom of the sea, combined with sensors and wireless technology. The system, known as LobsterNet, is still in the process of being deployed. It was developed by technology-based solutions organization Gloucester Innovation, using a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) provided by network operator Sigfox USA.

The sensor devices Gloucester Innovation has designed and assembled measure the temperature and acidity levels of water on the ocean floor, then forward that data to a cloud-based server. But they need the help of the lobstermen, who deliver traps to the ocean floor and back to the surface on a daily basis. The system is a collaboration with the help of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association (MLA) to distribute the sensors in the water.

Gloucester Innovation's long-term plan is to cover the entirety of the state's 192-mile coastline with sensors that can detect such conditions as pollutants on the sea bed, as well as improve the management of the shorelines according to that information. Gloucester Innovation is a Massachusetts-based organization focused on building platforms, solutions and businesses for marine applications, robotics and biotechnology. For this particular project, says Ric Upton, the company's founder, it sought a way to access information regarding the health of the ocean floor along the state's coast.

The team was interested in gathering and sharing data such as PH levels, depth, temperatures and contaminants from as far as 20 miles offshore, for the purpose of preserving the marine environment. Its efforts, Upton says, are to monitor the ocean's health and then manage marine industries accordingly. "That can mean tracking physical parameters, chemical parameters and biological information in a resolution and scale that wasn't before possible."

Data collection has proved challenging, however. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular and satellite transmissions each pose their own difficulties, such as cost and range distance. Sensors deployed in oceans have typically utilized satellite communications. That technology, however, can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, so sensors must be placed sporadically. But in order to collect data from the ocean floor throughout a span of days, Gloucester Innovation needed to do something different.

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