High Schooler Built Drone Buoy to Collect Oceanographic and Atmospheric Data

This free-drifting satellite buoy built by high school student Hayden Brophy in San Francisco, California is out to collect oceanographic and atmospheric data about the Gulf Stream and was launched “in the name of peace and science.”
In an act of citizen science, the Project Wilson, named after Wilson the Volleyball from the movie “Cast Away”, is drifting away currently to collect valuable data regarding water temperature, ambient air temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity, and rate of speed.
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Hayden Brophy, a high school student at Juanita High School in Kirkland, Washington, built Project Wilson from scratch.


In case you didn’t know, these free-floating buoys, known as “drifters”, are dropped in strategic locations to gather data to provide meteorologists with accurate sea and coastal forecasts. Moreover, these data enable them to predict regional climate conditions.
Apparently, Brophy took on the project over two years ago with the goal of building an autonomous drifting buoy that would record air temperature, water temperature, barometric pressure, and relative pressure.
Wilson is made with an Arduino Pro Trinket, GPS receiver, a satellite modem, and a charger for the LiPo battery located in a Pelican watertight case. In addition to all that, the lid of the case contains a 9 W solar panel with antennas for GPS and the Iridium uplink.
Wilson’s onboard program transmits information every 12 hours by giving its tracking and all the other data it collects as it floats along the Gulf Stream. This is especially important since oceans are one of the world’s most isolated places.
On August 8, the drifter was launched as cameras captured its departure. You can watch it here:
Wilson seems to be doing just fine. According to the latest updates by Michael Brophy, Wilson is safe and has been regularly uplinking every 12 hours. Brophy wrote, “We’re keeping our hopes up that Wilson will find a ride out to sea this weekend. In the meantime, we’ll be providing daily updates.”
You can track that data online and follow Wilson through its adventures to see how far it gets.
This project is proof that science that concerns all of us can be managed with off-the-shelf hardware and on a budget. While with the upcoming storms Wilson’s fate remains on shaky ground, Hayden is definitely off for a bright future.