Last week, I returned from my family vacation in the Northwest. I have to admit that for a robotic enthusiast Seattle has rich material. All one has to do is look at the skyline and see the Space Needle which immediately reminds one of TV’s most famous futuristic shows. According to the NY Times, Iwao Takamoto, a layout and design artist for The Jetsons said in 2005 that the Space Needle “inspired the ‘skypad’ apartment buildings [in the cartoon], whose stilts grew or shrunk depending on the smog.” Turning one’s head to Puget Sound, you can see the giant shipping cranes working full tilt. Underneath, one also observes sea otters, orcas and even robots floating in the bay.
The Seattle-based NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center has placed robotic sensors in the waters of Samish and Lummi Bay. These robots will automatically let fishermen know if there are any toxins in the water that could make their way into their daily catch, especially the crustacean kind. NOAA estimates that such robots could save million of dollars each year in damages and recalls.
The current process works by snail mail, taking up to two days for someone to go out, get a sample, bring it back to the lab and wait for the analysis. The robotic “labs in a can,” can process the data in real-time data informing all interested parties of the water quality.
The project began early this summer (before my arrival). The robots, called Environment Sample Processors, are about the size of a 55-gallon drum that were originally developed by a team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
“The idea is we always want to push this technology to be smaller, faster, cheaper,” says researcher Kevin Yamahara. Right now, the robots are stationary, but in the future they will be able to swim through the water. The test in the Puget Sound will run throughout September, Yamahara said. “It’s working…I think the concept is there.”
Postscript: While I am back at my desk, I can appreciate the ebb and flows of vacation better as I prepare for a New Year. I wish all my readers, regardless of religion or robotic form, a year filled with health, happiness, and success! As we say in Hebrew, Shana Tova u’Metuka!