The oceans carry information about climate change, food and natural resources, yet only 5% of the world’s oceans have been fully explored. Researchers in Japan are working to change that by developing cheap and accessible floating ocean sensors that can gather and analyse critical data from the sea, as well as track plastic pollution.
The project, called OMNI (Ocean Monitoring Network Initiative), is led by design experts at The University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science.
“The purpose of OMNI is to take a different approach to marine measurement and sensing,” says Miles Pennington of the DLX Design Lab at The University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science.
The project’s team is currently testing prototype devices in collaboration with multiple partners, such as schools, companies and local communities. One of the project’s goals is to allow participants to create their own ocean monitoring system to collect information on temperature, salinity, currents and microplastic pollution. Results will be released and discussed in a series of local workshops.
The OMNI approach has speed on its side. The high-powered sensors typically used in ocean monitoring are expensive and require specially trained operators. OMNI devices have been designed using consumer electronic sensor technologies to keep system costs low. This will allow a much broader base of people to become involved in ocean monitoring, thus producing much quicker results.
In the future, OMNI’s sensing technology, device designs, systems and gathered data will be freely accessible by anyone at any time.
The data will help decision makers develop sustainable policies to maintain the health of the ocean environment. The project should also prove educational, to help people learn more from the oceans and increase awareness among the general public about the fragile marine habitat.
By working in this people-oriented and user-friendly way, the project aims to maximise engagement, data collection and use. “We hope the project will make people more interested in their oceans and help them think about how to use them in a more meaningful way,” says Pennington. “We also hope it will become an open access platform that can provide comprehensive information at sea, similar to Google Maps on land, which will lead to innovation and the creation of new businesses.”
Institute of Industrial Science,
The University of Tokyo
E-mail: [email protected]