Scientists have been deploying battery powered sensors on ocean buoys for the past 30 years to track currents, waves, temperature, salinity, pH, and other metrics in an effort to understand the ocean. The accepted design standards for these single use instruments typically rely on plastics, urethane foams and lead acid batteries - things that are generally understood to be bad for the ocean. Unfortunately, most of these instruments have a fixed lifespan, becoming ocean trash once they run out of battery power.
I had some success with making my own version of a data buoy (see next step), but this experience left me wondering if it is possible to make a functional data buoy without plastic and batteries. My specific goal is to create seaworthy objects with waterproof electronics enclosures out of materials that will have minimal impact on the ocean if / when they become lost at sea. I spent three months at Autodesk's Pier 9 exploring this question, and what follows chronicles a few points along the way.
Thanks to the Arduino and Maker movements, the technology used in data buoys has become more accessible. Over the past year, I developed and deployed my first set of data buoys using Arduino compatible components and code, as well as solar panels and LiPoly batteries. One of my drifters lasted for 6 months in the Pacific Ocean. It transmitted its location as well as the sky color and 30 seconds of wave height info every six hours. I considered this to be a modest success, but I too used a mix of urethane resins, foams and sealants to fabricate a seaworthy enclosure.