NASA prototypes new tracking tag for sea otters #NASA

When you think of technology development at NASA, your first thought may be spacecraft and satellites. But one of the latest inventions to come out of the agency’s lead maker space isn’t made for astronauts or engineers – but for sea otters.

Sea otters are important mammals in marine ecosystems and are essential to maintaining balance in kelp forests. That’s why the Space Shop, a maker space at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, is developing a modern tracking device designed to humanely fit onto the hind flippers of sea otters. This new and improved tracking device is still being tested, but once it’s ready to be deployed, scientists will be able to track sea otter populations with far more precision and frequency than was previously possible. In the future, the same technology could be used to track other wild animals.

“We’re bringing state-of-the-art tech to the challenge of tracking wildlife,” said Chad Frost, the principal investigator for the project at Ames. “Using modern networking technologies and economical prototyping techniques like 3D printing, this collaboration is creating a new kind of tag that will fundamentally change the scale of science that can come out of tracking wildlife like sea otters.”

The Space Shop at Ames is one of NASA’s main facilities for plastic 3D printing, making it the ideal place to prototype and produce the otter tag’s housing, which keeps the electronics of the tag safe and secured to the otter.

The team had to fabricate a device to withstand salt water and the sea otter’s strong jaws and teeth, designed for crushing the hardest of shellfish, all while not harming the otter and protecting the electronics that are housed inside.

Read more in this NASA article.


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