hydroino_logo1000001 Labs’ Hydroino is a prototype of a low-cost, Arduino– and Electric-Imp–based buoy for the monitoring of natural-water quality, which environmental-science grad students and do-it-yourself sea enthusiasts can build. Thanks to the real-time component of the monitoring, the participation of the citizens, the development and implementation in existing low-cost prototypes, Hydroino is offering a unique opportunity to monitor noise in relation, for example, to the impact of sounds of oil and gas explorations on belugas, bowhead whales and other sea life such as seashells, and to seismic instability.

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The Hydroino idea was inspired by the Citclops European project, in which scientists, looking to encourage undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate interest in sea monitoring, came up with a design for a low-cost buoy that could be built entirely from cheap components or prepackaged kits, and by the LIDO program. The result is a water-resistant box measuring about 13 x 13 x 20 centimeters, just large enough to fit a basic, open-source electronics prototyping platform and communications payload, and a battery. Sensors, which measure the noise in the water, are connected via cable to the box. The buoy is capable of connecting to a mobile device, so that data gathered in the water can be collected wirelessly.

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The small size means that Hydroino can be put into the sea using a common deployment system, thus bringing deployment costs down to a bare minimum that make it feasible for a group of dedicated hobbyists in a university lab or even a high school to afford. All told, a Hydroino can be built and deployed for about 300 €, an unheard-of price for getting anything into monitoring the sea.


Bowhead whale [firstworldfacts.com]

The problem

In many marine areas, levels of human-generated noise have doubled every decade for the past 60 years. For marine animals this has been a life-threatening trend. International campaigns to call for the protection of marine animals from oceans, seas and coasts noise pollution are under way. In certain areas of the oceans, seas and coasts, intense sound-waves are been emitted every ten seconds during several months in the search for oil. This noise is a threat to whales, dolphins and other marine life in the area. Governments are ignoring animal, species and environmental conservation issues in their support for oil exploration. A short-sighted rush to explore oil and gas resources in the oceans, seas and coasts will not only cause harm to marine life, but jeopardizes the development of a sustainable approach, which puts priority on the protection of species and ecosystems, as well as tourism, aquaculture and fisheries.

Sources of oceans, seas and coasts noise pollution are as follows:

  • Explosives. They are regularly detonated in the ocean by military forces, scientists, and the oil and gas industries, for demolition purposes, seismic exploration or tests to determine the shock resistance of ships. Explosions create extremely powerful noise levels across a wide frequency range and with rapid rise times.
  • Shipping traffic. Ships tend to produce low-frequency sound between 10 Hz and 1 kHz that can spread over huge distances. Noise of this frequency interferes with the sounds of whales, dolphins, seals, fishes and other marine animals. More than 90 per cent of the global transportation of goods is made with ships. These vessels are generating an ever-present and constantly rising acoustic “fog” that masks natural sounds and is the most common source of oceans, seas and coasts noise along with seismic air-guns.
  • Air-guns. Seismic air-guns are primarily used for oil and gas exploration on the seabed. Air is driven into the water and towards the seabed at high pressure. The sound can penetrate thousands of meters of ocean before heading up to hundreds of kilometers into the earth crust. Up to 20 guns are fired at the same time, with each of them emitting sound every ten seconds, often for 24 hours per day and for several weeks in the same spot. Hydrophones are used to listen and chart the echoes. As easily-extractable resources are depleted, seismic surveys are continually spreading to more sensitive marine habitats and being conducted to ever greater depths.

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  • Military sonar. Active sonar is used by military vessels during exercises and routine deployments to search for objects such as hostile submarines. These mid- and low-frequency sonar systems emit pulses of sound for over 100 seconds at a time for hours. These pulses are emitted with as much energy and in as narrow a range as possible. Low-frequency sonar serves as a way of putting large areas under surveillance and saturates thousands of cubic kilometers of water with sound. Military sonar uses frequencies between 0.1 and 10 kHz and can reach up to 230 decibels. That is equivalent to the sound generated by a space rocket launch.

Hydroino 02[www.oceancare.org]


Marine animals are dependent on their hearing to navigate, communicate, find a mating partner and catch prey. But sound levels in the oceans are rising constantly. Military sonars used to locate submarines are a particular danger, as their sound waves can be heard within an underwater radius of about 3,000 kilometers. Shipping, offshore oil platforms and the use of air-guns in seismic oil & gas explorations all add to the noise. Oceans, seas and coasts noise pollution leads to marine animals fleeing valuable habitats, never to return. Some are directly induced to flee, while others are compelled to as their prey have left. Oceans, seas and coasts noise pollution has a disruptive impact in mating, finding prey and suckling the young, with some serious consequences in cases when species are already under threat for other reasons.

Additionally, as Natacha Aguilar de Soto et at. suggest, anthropogenic noise causes body malformations and delays development in marine larvae, with potential impact on aquaculture. Understanding the impact of noise on marine fauna at the population level requires knowledge about the vulnerability of different life-stages. Evidence has been provided that noise exposure during larval development produces body malformations in marine invertebrates. Scallop larvae exposed to playbacks of seismic pulses showed significant developmental delays and 50% developed body abnormalities. Similar effects were observed in all independent samples exposed to noise while no malformations were found in the control groups. Malformations appeared in the veliger larval phase, perhaps due to the cumulative exposure attained by this stage or to a greater vulnerability of veliger to sound-mediated physiological or mechanical stress. Such strong impacts suggest that abnormalities and growth delays may also result from lower sound levels or discrete exposures, increasing the potential for routinely-occurring anthropogenic noise sources to affect recruitment of wild scallop larvae in natural stocks.

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Participatory monitoring as part of the solution

Our vision is one in which citizens take an active role in the monitoring of activities causing noise pollution. Information streaming in from citizen-deployed sensors in near real-time may permit adaptive decision-making to maximize the effectiveness of environmental-protection programs around the world.  Also helped by the ubiquity of cell-phones, the promise of sensor networks presents a tremendous opportunity to leapfrog traditional methods of gathering important information and empowering individuals. We claim that citizens take a participatory and responsible approach to oceans, seas and coasts habitats. For this reason we have developed a three-step participatory blueprint on oceans, seas and coasts noise pollution:

  1. Oceans, seas and coasts noise pollution should be recognized as a serious problem by the citizens and it should be tackled.
  2. To reduce and regulate oceans, seas and coasts noise pollution, citizens should ask for the application of the precautionary principle, the development of effective guidelines and binding regulations on noise reduction, as well as the creation of biosphere reservations, UNESCO World Heritage Marine Zones and other protected areas.
  3. An international threshold on ocean noise must be established and noise levels in the oceans should be monitored with the participation of citizens, with their environmental impact studied by scientists.

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Hydroino as part of the revolution in Making

Hydroino is part of the revolution in Making, fueled by recent cultural and technological advances. 3D printers, modular electronics, and online libraries of open-source designs empowered us to bring our ideas to life with groundbreaking speed and creativity. Community hackerspaces (and Fab Labs and maker spaces) have opened their doors to us. Cooperation in manufacturing accelerated the innovation pipeline from invention to market.

As Eric King says, Makers are a powerful force of innovation and entrepreneurship across the world. And beyond the impressive promise of revitalizing hardware manufacturing, the Maker movement offers a truly unprecedented resource: global creation. Great ideas can come from anywhere. How many times in human history must inspiration have struck those who lacked the means to create a prototype? How many of our great ideas have gone unrealized? By democratizing the means to create, the Maker movement is poised to unlock humanity’s power of invention. Sensor technology is an integral part of the Maker movement. Our sensors monitor the quality of the water – they’ll send an alert to your phone when the noise in the water surpasses a certain threshold. Information about our physical world is increasingly detected, analyzed, and returned to us as useful insights that can improve our lives. And, because the sensors transmit this information over the Internet, we talk about “Internet of Things”, in which, however, there is a vast hole: much of the developing world is a sensors desert. Here, ironically, the world’s most vulnerable people stand to gain the most from improved access to critical information on essential issues like water quality.

Recognizing this potential, USAID challenged Makers around the world to create sensor technologies that can improve the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people. The U.S. Global Development Lab has launched a “Sensors for Global Development” Fab Award in partnership with the World Bank, Intel Corporation, and the Fab Foundation.

Useful information streaming in from sensors in near real-time may permit adaptive decision-making to maximize the effectiveness of aid programs around the world.  Also helped by the ubiquity of cell-phones, the promise of sensor networks presents a tremendous opportunity to leapfrog traditional methods of gathering important information and empowering individuals.

The Sensors for Global Development Fab Award challenged the Maker movement to get involved. USAID called for Makers to focus their efforts on creating low-cost sensor technologies that promise to help improve the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable. This pervasive group of solvers take on society’s most fundamental challenges to achieve a more prosperous, resilient, and democratic global community.

The six Fab Award finalists are the following ones:

  • Hydroino – a low cost DIY sensor buoy system that empowers students and citizen scientists to monitor the environmental conditions of seas and rivers.
  • MoMo (mobile monitor) – a mobile device with a sensor that collects data to track infrastructure and improve accountability in the developing world. WellDone’s water MoMo identifies where village wells are broken and alerts repair teams to fix them.
  • Fresh Air in Benin – a network of air quality sensors being developed to monitor urban air pollution in Africa.
  • GrowerBot – a smart sensor system for small-scale agriculture that monitors and tracks environmental conditions, providing customized guidance to help growers optimize their productivity.
  • Nano Plasmonics Biosensor – a nano-scale optical sensor for identifying organic molecules with a wide range of applications from medical diagnostics to detecting water contamination.
  • Safecast – an open source vehicle-mounted sensor network system to empower citizens to collect and publish data, with a focus on mapping radiation levels.

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Noise monitoring with Arduino and Electric Imp

As Emily Gertz and Patrick Di Justo note, we usually turn environmental monitoring over to the scientific experts at government agencies, universities, and corporations. They come armed with complicated and expensive equipment as well as specialized educations, and occasionally their own institutional agendas. Since the natural environment is complex, even more so for all the stuff we human beings and our activities have added to the mix, this sort of expertise has an important role in our lives and in our communities. Scientific analysis and expertise are key to creating effective regulations that control the impacts human activities have on the environment and our health. Monitoring the environment for ourselves, however, pulls the curtain back on what all those experts are doing. Understanding brings knowledge, and with knowledge comes the power to make decisions that can change our lives for the better—from holding polluters accountable, to helping scientists study noise pollution.

3D printers, modular electronics, and online libraries of open-source designs empowered us to bring our ideas to life with groundbreaking speed and creativity. Community hackerspaces (and Fab Labs and maker spaces) have opened their doors to us. Cooperation in manufacturing accelerated the innovation pipeline from invention to market. The result is Hydroino, a DIY buoy able to monitor noise in oceans, seas and coasts.

Noise is one of the most pervasive environmental contaminants around. Noise pollution is defined as a sound that is constant, very loud, unwanted, or disturbing to everyday activities in the places living beings live. Underwater sound is made by the movement of water molecules. When an object vibrates, it moves back and forth, creating pressure waves that compress the water first in one direction, and then in the other. These waves of compression travel outward in all directions from the source of the vibration until they hit an obstacle and get absorbed, reflected, or attenuated into nothingness.

When the wave reaches our microphone, its pressure causes a membrane in our microphone to vibrate. As the microphone membrane vibrates, it changes the magnetic field of a magnet behind it. This varying magnetic field causes a very small electric current to flow from the microphone’s wires. That current is what we actually measure with this gadget.

Typically a microphone current is very low—so low that Arduino or Electric Imp would find it difficult to detect much variation in the signal. So we chose a microphone (34.300 CAPSULA ELECTRET 3V, ref. CT116/2) that comes loaded onto a breakout board equipped with an amplifier. This particular amp boosts the signal to one strong enough for Arduino or Electric Imp to detect easily. It required some tweaking of the Arduino and Electric Imp sketch, but it worked. We modified this gadget to listen to oceans, seas and coasts noise, which is complicated, because the microphone needs to be waterproofed, as well as designed to pick up the frequencies used by oil-exploration equipment.

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A waterproof housing is essential for Arduino or Electric Imp themselves as well, plus a method to either store the data (on an SD card) for the Arduino or output the data to a device elsewhere for the Electric Imp.

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To visually show noise passing different thresholds we created an LED bar display using individual LEDs. The LED bar display is nothing but a collection of light emitting diodes. There is no other circuitry. There aren’t even any built-in resistors to regulate the current. The sketch reflects the actual number of LEDs that we use. One advantage to using individual LEDs is that you can color-code them by intensity. We tried one green LED and two red LEDs to give the readout a sense of urgency. The videos show an LED bar display plugged into a breadboard, along with jumper wires to connect it to Electric Imp.

Make the Hydroino


1. Arduino MEGA or Electric Imp

2. Arduino Wireless SD shield (if you are going to use Arduino)

3. Breadboard or protoboard

4. Microphone (34.300 CAPSULA ELECTRET 3V, part number CT116/2)

5. 3 LEDs, two or three colors, or LED bar display

6. 22k-ohm resistor

7. 100k-ohm resistor

8. 1k-ohm resistor

9. 220k-ohm resistor

10. TIs LM258 Operational Amplifier (Op Amp)

11. Jumper wires

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Breadboard the circuit

Here’s how to build the noise monitor circuit:

  • Step 1. Plug the microphone into the breadboard.
  • Step 2. Connect a wire between the GND pin of the microphone and the GND pin of Arduino.
  • Step 3. Connect the power pin of the microphone to the power pin of Arduino.
  • Step 4. Connect the DATA pin of the microphone to the Analog 0 pin of Arduino.
  • Step 5. Connect the Digital 2 pin of Arduino to a point on the breadboard.
  • Step 6. Connect the LONG or ANODE lead of an LED (or the ANODE lead of an LED bar) to a pin in the same breadboard row as the jumper from D2. Have the LED straddle the breadboard trench, and plug the SHORT lead or CATHODE (or the CATHODE lead of an LED bar) to a pin in the corresponding row on the other side of the breadboard.
  • Step 7. Plug a 220-ohm resistor into the breadboard, connecting the cathode row and the GND rail.
  • Step 8. Connect a wire from the GND rail to the Arduino GND pin.

Repeat steps 5 through 7 once for every LED you want to use. Increase the digital Arduino pin and breadboard row for each LED, to make a nice row of lights. To keep yourself from going crazy, don’t use the same color wire for each LED, since that makes it unbelievably difficult to spot mistakes made by plugging an LED to the wrong Arduino pin. Alternate colors, or use a whole rainbow of wires.


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