Scientists Want To Collect Whale Boogers Using Flying Drones

Testing the flying drone Snotbot with Snotshot, a whale blow robot mimic. Ocean Alliance.

Engineering students in Massachusetts have teamed up with a whale conservation charity – with a little help from Sir Patrick Stewart – to better collect whale blow with flying drones.

What is whale blow? Well, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not water that whales spray out of their blowholes. It is a delightful mucal composite of snot, water and tissue that whales eject when near to the surface of the water, usually visible as a spray.

Whale biologists can tell exactly the mood and state of the whale based on analysis of the mucal fluids. To collect the vital whale blow, researchers would have to travel by boat alongside the whales and reach over with a long pole three metres (10 feet) in length to obtain the mucous substance.

The flying drone removes all disruption from the whales, allowing the whales to be monitored with minimum sound disruption. Students from the Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts have launched a Kickstarter campaign with nonprofit charity Ocean Alliance to help fund and promote their research using the Snotbot drone.

The Snotbot works through remote-control, flying three metres (10 feet) above the water. To protect its electric innards if submerged underwater, the drone is partially encased in a lightweight plastic shell. The drone collects whale blow samples with a spongy material. But most importantly, the drone operates far away enough that it doesn’t disturb the whale.

Snotbot researchers are still waiting for accreditation from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Federal Aviation Administration so that they can use the Snotbot in the wild. But they’re product-testing the flying robots on floating robots that imitate the buoyancy of whale’s blow.

Through 186 backers, the Kickstarter campaign has already raised about $10,000 of its $225,000 goal with just over a month to go before its end.

Check out the Kickstarter for the Snotbot and its promo video starring Sir Patrick Stewart here.

[H/T: Popular Science]


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