Monitoring marine animals is a difficult task for many reasons, not the least of which is the robustness needed for a device to survive more than a few weeks of water-related torture. The awkward solutions currently used to observe whales and other creatures may soon have a lighter competitor: this "marine skin" flexible and inexpensive.
Developed by researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the ultralight sensor platform was developed from the simple concern that existing technology simply is not nice to wear for animals. Muhammad Mustafa Hussain is leading the project in collaboration with the Red Sea Research Institute.
The marine skin uses a flexible silicone substrate and a design that can survive being twisted, squeezed, and subjected to serious pressure up to a moderate depth. It follows the salinity and the temperature of the water and the distance under the surface; this could be used to follow the creature's preferences or to monitor the waters in which it is swimming or creeping.
He uses a watch battery and the team suggests that it could last up to a year when optimized, although the need to transmit information over long distances could limit that. Currently, it can only send information via Bluetooth, and a 30-foot range is not particularly useful in the vast ocean. But there are ways to report on that.
At a cost of less than $ 12 per unit, it is also extremely cheap. On a scale that could even be cheaper, and its low profile means that it could be deployed en masse on small animals rather than on carefully chosen high value targets such as traveling whales.
It is still in the prototype phase but the team is working with others to test the devices, and publishes its progress in an article on Flexible Electronics. IEEE Spectrum contains some additional details and photos of the Hussain group.