The SnotBot: Bringing Democracy Through Whale Snot
The SnotBot is a hexacopter drone plastered with petri dishes that flies over a whale’s blowhole and through the plume of whale snot in the name of science and democracy. This singular snot collection provides all the things scientists love to analyze, like DNA, viruses, hormones and microbes, for a fraction of the usual cost.
Normally, collecting whale DNA would involve renting a research vessel at a remote location, which costs upwards of $20,000. Then scientists begin chasing whales around in a motorboat, which costs another $2,000 a day, so they can shoot modified crossbows that collect a small piece of blubber. Conversely, the $4500 SnotBot package includes cameras and can be used many times. Innovations in drone tech like the SnotBot makes research more affordable and accessible, opening the field up to any scientist regardless of their financial ability.
Iain Kerr, the biologist behind the SnotBot, and CEO of nonprofit research organization Ocean Alliance says, “Having looked down at whales with drones after 30 years of studying them, and seeing behavior and activity that you could only imagine from the boat, I can’t go back to studying whales without a drone. I just can’t do it.”
Kerr hopes that his SnotBot will become even more effective when machine learning is added to teach the drones how to find whales on their own. The Snotbot could also learn how to adapt to whale behavior to fly behind the blowhole and collect their mucus at just the right moment. The goal is to observe whales without being as invasive as humans and thus affecting their behavior.
Making tech like this open-source and available to as many people as possible creates opportunities for even more advancement and innovation and levels the field so all scientists can collaborate effectively.
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Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. Why is it important to study whales?
Q2. In what other ways can we democratize science?
Q3. What other species could we study using drones?