October 15, 1999


Steve Roberts, owner of Nomad Research Labs is a genius at miniaturizing and integrating technological computer and communications tools, along with independent power supplies, into light means of human power transportation vehicles. In the 1980's he designed and developed a recumbent bicycle - named Behemoth - with full communications capability, solar and pedal powered, which he used to travel over 10,000 miles on

Since the mid 1990's Steve has progressed through multi-person catamarans, to what he now dubs the Microship. It is a one person canoe, with sophisticated computer-driven devices, from GPS location broadcasters, and two way communications devices, to onboard computer systems. As originally designed it was his intention to add to the Microship a mobile, portable 'Environmental Data Collection' device to his Microship before setting forth on a 2 year river ride oddessy (with his wife in a second canoe). As described in his book, "From Behemoth to Microship" this device reflecting no particular scientific agenda, was as thus.


Environment Data Collection

In addition to the systems and software dedicated to local control, resource management, navigation, and communication, we are taking advantage of on-board technology to do our small part to help clean up polluted waters. With years of anticipated coastal/inland on-water time and the technological tools on hand to collect and transmit environmental data, it would seem almost negligent not to do so!

We have no particular political or scientific agenda, and are thus gathering a wide range of easy-to-capture telemetry data. Some of it is purely internal (system diagnostics, console pressure, power management, and so on), and some is navigational (speed, GPs coordinates, heading, and the like). But quite a bit falls into the broad category of environmental measurement:

    · Air temperature
    · Ambient light
    · Barometric Pressure
    · Dissolved oxygen
    · Humidity
    · Ozone
    · Radiation (both air and water)
    · Ultraviolet intensity
    · Water pH
    · Water salinity
    · Water temperature
    · Water turbidity
    · Wind direction
    · Wind speed

    We are seeking other sensors that easily yield relevant and interesting data, with particular interest in hydrocarbons and indicators of common industrial and agricultural pollutants (we're seriously lusting after a Voyager portable Gas Chromatograph from Perkin-Elmer). Although we're not doing "real science" in the formal transect'n survey sense, we do have the opportunity to collect location-stamped telemetry blocks at any interval and transmit them in real-time to a publicly-accessible web browser. The resulting river profiles should yield interesting data as we pass industrial areas, population centers, and regions of heavy agricultural runoff... and to make it easy to use, we are building a server-resident database to host the raw data along with a set of front-end tools that allow graphic observation of any group of channels over time — including the ability to click anywhere on our "breadcrumb trail" for a snapshot of the values at that point accompanied by corresponding observational text and images.

    Graphic presentation is the first step in making raw data interesting, and — with the added rich context of the Microship adventure — we are targeting this system toward schools. To really deliver something of value (one-pass data is too much affected by rains and seasonal variations to allow more than casual conclusions except in obvious point-source pollution cases), we must go beyond the data itself and port the entire set of hardware and software tools to our educational clients. Students who grow enamored of nomadic data collection by watching graphic sensor logs of our cruise downriver can copy the designs, download the software, and apply the same techniques to local environmental problems. Such continuous monitoring over an extended period can indeed yield real science, not to mention a firm grasp of principles ranging from biology to wireless networking. These designs will allow relatively non-technical folks to build unattended monitoring systems that communicate with classroom computers via a variety of data links, inviting a whole set of potentially interesting student projects and collaboration with the scientific community.

    Along these lines, we might present the Microships to schools as a sort of "experiment bus" like a junior Space Shuttle (but much more likely to drop in for a classroom visit!), perhaps with a competition that would encourage students to design a new experiment or sensor channel that we could add to the system. Coupled with a series of on-site school appearances while underway, this should make the whole affair quite engaging as an educational project; during the BEHEMOTH era, I delighted in getting kids turned on to technology through something "cool"... a much-needed alternative to dry textbooks.

    Copyright Steven K. Roberts, 1999 (from From Behemoth to Microship, Nomadic Research Labs)



I recognized this before this Biological Sciences Project by Wireless was submitted and approved for funding, as a unique mobile means to collect biological science and environmental data in ways not currently being done. If the device were made truely portable enough to be carried in a backpack by a hiker, mounted on a bicycle, or carried on a horse, as well as across water in a boat, and be powered by solar or other environmental energy sources, while making timed data capture, store or process the data, and communicate it constantly or periodically, via wireless connections, this could be a very useful tool for biological scientist. No such item is currently manufactured.

Preliminary discussions with Roberts concluded with a proposed contractual agreement for Nomad Labs to deliver a prototype of such a device, along with detailed plans so others could duplicate it, and suitable still photograph and video tape explanations of how it works and is designed. That was included in this Grant request, and funds were allocated for it.

PI Hughes travelled by air and car to Camano Island, Puget Sound, Washington on September 26th, met with Steve and Lisa, at their island home and laboratory on the 27th.

I got a detailed tour of the Microship under construction, which had just undergone its first water test.

Camano Island


Puget Sound from Camano Island


Nomad Lab


The Microship


I also was able to inspect the electronics and computer systems laid out in bench test form.

The Microship Electronics


We then discussed in detail, what the Prototype should be capable of performing. We also named it, giving the unique device a handle for convenience:

WANDER 2000 - "Wireless Aquisition of Networked Data for Environmental Research" - Model 2000


The draft schematic of WANDER'S design is as follows:

WANDER 2000 Schematic


An idea of the size of the main device, is as follows:

Steve Roberts and Prototype Case


Having agreed to the design features of WANDER 2000, we parted, and I drafted and submitted a formal Agreement for the work Steve will perform, and what the deliverables must be, Working Prototype, design, photographs and video, before July 1st, 2000. Essential planned features of WANDER 2000 are detailed below.



Steve Roberts will design, fabricate, assemble, test, and deliver a working prototype of a mobile, independently powered environmental-science data collection, storage, and communicating device herein called WANDER 2000 (Wireless Aquisition and Networked Data for Environmental Research), Year 2000 version which has the following characteristics:

a. Light, Compact, and Mobile. All components in a single transportable container, weighing, as a target, less than 20 lbs.

b. Capable of being carried, while operating, collecting data and communicating, on small boats, by hiking individual, or on bicycle, motorcycle, or in car or truck.

c. Battery powered, with at least 4 hour battery life, capable of being recharged by portable solar panels, 12 volt vehicle batteries via cigarette lighter plug, wall plug grid power source via international standards (110 and 220 volt) transformer.

d. Capable of communicating, at a minimum, with at least one global Internet-connected satellite service from mobile antenna.

e. Comprised to the maximum extent possible by open market purchasable parts, so it can be duplicated from NSF Project published plans.


WANDER 2000 will include at least the following interoperable modules:

1. Server - Linux based, with standard small Internet server capabilities as processor, storage, TCP/IP routing, e-mail, telnet, ftp, web server. Low power, ram-disk storage, and power managemement tools. Standard ports, including ethernet 10BaseT, Serial, Printer, LCD, Keyboard, Mouse. PC sound. With port addressing, both ethernet, and serial for access, floppy disk based loading, recovery or reconfiguration.

2. Small Serial LCD, for system status display.

3. Control Hub - Controller for parallel digital, and analog I/O.

4. Serial Crossbar - with 32 addressable, serial, channels capable of interconnecting to and managing various sensors and data collectors.

5. GPs device, interconnected and seperable.

6. Power supply, integrating battery, solar, and external transformer capabilities.

7. Solar panels recharger unit.

The following operational characteristics will be provided for in WANDER 2000:

a. The unit will be capable, after attachment to external sensors commonly used for the environmental and biological science research, to monitor environmental data (such as but not limited to, temperature, humidity, of air, water, soil, chemical makup, radiation, physical properties of medium) continuously or intermittently, manually controlled or untended by time schedule settings; store the data in a common data base format in the Linux unit.

b. The data collected can be transmitted either automatically, on a timed schedule, or by manual command either from the unit or via wireless connection to the unit over an Internet link, to remote data bases.

c. The data will also be viewable by Web Browser either locally by attached browser devices, or via the wireless Internet connection.

d. Web browser visual access will be configurable by the operator via standard HTML, cgi-bin programming.

e. Access to WANDER 2000 will be ID and password protected, both at the Linux system control level with standard unix encrytian, and at the web level.

f. Numerical processing will be supported.

g. Data may be transmitted in either streaming data form, or via automatic email-format messages.

h. The data base format will be configurable by the operator, so that researchers may set up data capture and storage in alternate ways dictated by the sensor data forms.

i. The assembled unit will be designed to withstand shocks expected of a man-carried, mobile device, protect from moisture, including incidental immersion in water, including salt water, and capable of operating through a range of outside temperatures of -50 to +120 degrees.



So the first project to fabricate a unique environmental data collection and communications device is underway.

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