When it comes to assessing the health of the oceans, scientists already utilize buoys and autonomous vehicles that monitor the deep waters. What they're lacking, however, is information on the waters close to shore – it's an area that's too shallow and/or turbulent for the usual tools. That's why SmartFin was created. It's a surfboard fin, that will allow surfers to gather oceanographic data for scientists.
SmartFin was conceived by Dr. Andrew Stern, an ex-neurologist who is now executive director of the non-profit environmental group Lost Bird. He took the idea to Benjamin Thompson, founder of the surf-tech company BoardFormula. Stern and Thompson developed the device to the point that they now have a sensor-laden stabilizing fin that can be mounted on existing surfboards, reportedly offering performance just like that of a regular "dumb" fin.
The SmartFin's sensors allow it to measure factors such as salinity, pH and water temperature. It's also equipped with a GPS unit, a 9-axis motion tracker (which lets it measure wave characteristics), and a Bluetooth module. It automatically "wakes up" and starts recording when movement is detected, and its built-in battery can be recharged by detaching the fin and placing it on a Qi wireless charging pad. The fin itself has no physical controls.
Once volunteer users have finished a surfing session, they can upload raw data from the SmartFin to a dedicated app on their smartphone. From there, it's transferred to a cloud-based database, where it can be accessed by scientists conducting studies on ocean acidification or other areas. Each ride is individually recorded, along with its date, time and location.
The SmartFin team is now working with colleagues at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography to assess the device's validity as a research tool. A commercial roll-out should follow soon after.