August 11-12, 2010: First Steps of the 2010 Drifters Fleet - August 2010

August 2010

UC Berkeley Floating Sensor Network team leads an experiment on the Generation 3 drifter design.

Early in the morning of August 11,2010, the first team of UC Berkeley Floating Sensor Network students left the lab to travel Sugar Barge on Bethel Island. This is the first time that Generation 3 models will be tested in outdoor conditions. The team expects that the experiment will bring to light the mechanical capabilities and water-resistance of the drifters. The goal is to orchestrate the drifter software - GPS, GSM,WIFI, salinity and depth sensors – and send the data in real-time to the lab in Berkeley.

With batteries fully charged, hardware functioning, and communications working, the team takes two boats to Frank's Tract, where the experiment takes place.

Difters are dropped carefully in water and the crews start the localization program. Drifters are equipped with an orange  flag for high visibility and tracking. However, windy weather conditions perturb the drifters' auto-maneuvering as the flags began to act like sails. This called for the team's rescue of drifters pushed into the bank or entangled in seaweed. Despite these movement issues, the on-board electronics gave decent results of their positions. The GPS, computer visualizer, and Zigbee radio gun were effective in locating lost and stray drifters.

Calmer weather into the afternoon afforded the team easier drifter care as less rescue efforts were called for. The drifters' durability was tested as the day progressed. Drifters were thrown higher and at faster boating speeds. Although some flag masts broke, none of the drifters were damaged.

After drifter babysitting for an entire afternoon, the team returned to the dock for a short debriefing and preparations for the next day of field work. This first day of experimenting showed the relatively high reliabiilty of the drifter's hardware and software features.