Engineering Students Seek a Better Way to Track Endangered Marine Mammals

November 15, 2017

3D model of DTAG

Last spring, Duke undergraduates Ashley Blawas (Biomedical Engineering), Brandon Dalla Rosa (Electrical & Computer Engineering) and Sam Kelly (Mechanical Engineering) received a Follow-on Student Research Award to improve on the research methods employed by their Bass Connections team History and Future of Ocean Energy.

Mentored by Douglas Nowacek, they aim to produce a digital acoustic recording tag (used for recording sounds and making behavioral measurements of diving marine mammals) that can be powered by the triboelectric effect, in which certain materials become charged through friction with a different material.

Triboelectric power would allow the tags to be deployed over longer periods of time, the students explain, because it eliminates the need for recharging the lithium battery currently in use. Recently they shared an update:

Sam Kelly working on Bass Connections projectInitial prototyping of our device was completed over the summer using a basic microcontroller and breakout boards for each of the respective sensors. This proof-of-concept then allowed our team to launch into a secondary iteration using a more robust microcontroller, as well as testing additional sensors.

Currently, we have students working on the housing for the tag, the software and the design of a custom printed circuit board to combine all of the sensor units onto one chip. While this has held the bulk of our time this semester, we have colleagues in conjunction with the Ocean Energy Bass Connections team who are continuing to develop the technology of triboelectric energy and triboelectric materials.

Our goal for the spring semester is to integrate the two components, namely the marine mammal tag and the triboelectric energy, to create a device that is perpetually powered by the motion of the animal being tagged.

A team poster from last year, Designing an Energy Harvesting Buoy, describes this effort in more detail.

Learn More

Photos: 3D model of the digital acoustic recording tag; Sam Kelly and teammates conducting triboelectric testing