Buoy genius clears the coast

Devised and tested at the Cape Peninsular University of Technology (CPUT), the buoy will feature locally sourced components as opposed to the fully imported flotation systems currently in use.

The Coastal Observer is a compact, modular data-collecting buoy, purpose-made for a range of ­commercial and scientific applications at sea.

Its development charts remarkable progress since buoys first surfaced hundreds of years ago. The first recorded buoy was mentioned in La Compasso de Navigare in 1296. Located in the Guadalquivir River, it aided mariners approaching the city of Seville, Spain.

The buoy developed in South Africa enables users to get real-time data through wireless telemetry from a range of sensors mounted to, and powered by, the platform.

It provides knowledge that would enable better understanding of the coastal environment. For example, it could provide an alert when the red tide – toxic to certain marine animals – is ready to crash on the West Coast.

The device could also help South Africa counter illegal fishing that costs the industry an estimated R4-billion a year.

More than 90% of South Africa’s oceanographic equipment is sourced abroad and all flotation systems are imported.

This project will buck the trend and ensure that local companies can draw on tailor-made products that reduce costs.

Buoys are deployed all along the South African coastline. They are used by industry and government for oceanographic and atmospheric data sampling. The data collected is crucial for severe weather prediction, disaster management, oceanographic research and coastal management.

Currently, when servicing buoys, technicians have to remove the entire device from the ocean. This means that crucial data cannot be collected during service periods.

To counter this problem, the functionality of the Coastal Observer buoy was enhanced to simplify operational procedures. This makes it easier for information to filter from the device to a data centre. The original system was big and its operational procedures required a highly skilled team. Improvements were identified and a new compact modular system was created. The modular design allows for easy maintenance and repairs as modules are of manageable size and can simply be replaced with service modules when required.

The system was developed for a local buoy network that required a new optimised system to allow for expansion of the network to cover more of the South African coastline.

The platform allows its user to collect data from coastal waters and transfer it to a land-based server.

The system can now be tailored for uses including oceanographic data collection, meteorological data collection and surveillance systems.

We have successfully completed our proof of concept by testing a prototype in False Bay in the Western Cape. The system performed very well and allowed us to identify possible design optimisations that can improve operational procedures.

Plans are underway to produce the buoy commercially in South Africa in 2016 before taking it to the rest of the continent.

Dirk Muller is a researcher and mechanical engineer at CPUT. He is also project leader for the Coastal Observer Project at the university and part of the team that devised the new real-time measuring buoy. The project is funded by CPUT.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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