Snotbot, a project to make drones that will collect whale snot, for scientific research purposes, builds on some Ig Nobel Prize-winning research.
The 201o Ig Nobel Prize for engineering was awarded to Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of the Zoological Society of London, UK, and Diane Gendron of Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, Mexico, for perfecting a method to collect whale snot, using a remote-control helicopter. (The documented their work, in the study “A Novel Non-Invasive Tool for Disease Surveillance of Free-Ranging Whales and Its Relevance to Conservation Programs,” Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, Agnes Rocha-Gosselin and Diane Gendron, Animal Conservation, vol. 13, no. 2, April 2010, pp. 217-25.)
The new project, Snotbot, describes itself:
About this project. We’ve invented a way to learn about whales while removing the need to harass them in the process. It’s called Snotbot.
What is a Snotbot? Snotbots are custom-built drones created in partnership between Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering. They hover in the air above a surfacing whale and collect the blow (or snot) exhaled from its lungs. Snotbot then returns that sample back to researchers a significant distance away….
By using Snotbots, the whale never knows the data is being collected. The custom-built drones fly well above the surface of the water and into the blow, the subjects are never touched or approached closely. Ideally, whale researchers should be positioned about half a mile away from their subjects, giving the whales plenty of room to go about their business. Dozens of technological hurdles had to be overcome in order to make the drones capable of collecting a physical sample at this distance in an uncontrolled marine environment.
Nidhi Subbaraman, writes about it, for BetaBoston: “Whale conservationists seek backers on Kickstarter for snot-harvesting drone“.
Patrick Steward, he of Star Trek, the Next Generation, stars in a video about Snotbot: