It was just last year that we heard about the Marine Skin patch, a flexible data-tracking device that can be temporarily adhered to marine creatures. Well, its designers have now come out with a version that's smaller, more sensitive, and capable of going much deeper.
Created at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the original patch was intended to be a less cumbersome alternative to the tags that are currently used for monitoring the behaviour and environments of animals such as sharks and whales. It's constructed of stretchable non-toxic/non-irritating silicone elastomers, with embedded flexible electronic components including a memory chip and environmental sensor. Power is provided by a coin cell battery, that should be good for about one year of use.
Basically, the idea is that creatures would be captured, the patch would be glued to their skin (or shell), and then they would be released. When they were later recaptured, the patch would be painlessly peeled off, and recorded data would be recovered from it. In the system's current form, that data includes the depths to which the animal has dived, along with water temperature and salinity.
Now, led by Prof. Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, a KAUST team has improved upon the technology.
The new version of Marine Skin is half the size of the original, yet reportedly has up to 15 times the sensitivity. Additionally, it can operate at an unprecedented maximum depth of 2 km (1.2 miles) beneath the surface, remaining immersed in salt water for a full month and withstanding 10,000 extreme bending cycles.
And while it presently records the same data as the original patch, plans call for the addition of sensors that will also allow it to monitor factors such as the water's oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and the animals' geographical location. It has already been tested on a variety of fish, including sea bass, sea bream and small goldfish.
"Marine Skin is a unique and groundbreaking innovation in wearable technology for marine animals," says Hussain.
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Small.
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