New Sensor Turns Surfboards into Data Collectors

Smartphin, Facebook
Smartphin, Facebook / Smartphin, Facebook

Global warming and carbon emissions are affecting our oceans—temperatures and sea levels are rising, ice caps are melting, and the water's increasing acidity is causing organisms to suffer. But monitoring the world's oceans isn't cheap, which is why Andrew Stern and Benjamin Thompson are revolutionizing how scientists and researchers can get the data they need. 

Stern, a former professor of neurology-turned-environmental advocate and filmmaker, came up with idea to use surfers as a means of collecting information about the ocean’s chemistry. Then he met Benjamin Thompson, a surfer working on his Ph.D. in structural engineering at UC San Diego, who was trying to incorporate sensors into surfboards so users could monitor the boards' performance. The pair decided to collaborate and create a sensor—called Smartphin—that could do both. 

"My intention with this was to use it as a tool to inform people about the environment and specifically the oceans," Stern told Outside Magazine. "So I made a map with 17 surf spots around the world and said we'll deploy to these places as many sensors as the scientists say we'll need there [to collect] data."

Come November, 50 scientists and researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego will begin the Smartphin pilot program and replace their normal fins with the Smartphin prototype. From there, they will compare the data on temperature, salinity, and acidity from their boards with data collected by similar sensors attached to a nearby pier in order to understand how the oceans' chemistries are changing over time, and to predict what could happen to them in the future. 

Replacing the fins might be a hard sell for surfers who are loyal to their boards, but according to Outside, Thompson “built some extra technology into Smartphin that will compel surfers to use it for their own selfish reasons: To know where and when waves are good and to track their own surfing performance.”

[h/t Outside Magazine]