Open Source Underwater Distributed Sensor Network

Robotic platform for water quality sensors inspired by clams.

Similar projects worth following
With the politicalization of environmental science and cuts in research funding, it is important for NGOs and citizen scientists to fill the void with good data. The goal of this project is to build an open source and inexpensive sensor platform to create 3D maps of water quality for threatened bays and estuaries.

Water quality monitoring is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. It is important for managing fisheries, measuring bacteria and algal blooms to protect public health, and pinpointing sources of pollution. Because of climate change, it is also important to get a baseline of data for water quality, in order to identify new and subtle trends.

This new sensor platform is designed so that citizen scientists and NGOs can supplement the work of government and academic organizations, in order to create a comprehensive database for all bodies of water. The platform is inspired by the simplicity of bivalves as a protective container, and will be open-source and 3D printed, so that a diverse group of individuals and organizations can collaborate in its development.

Researchers will deploy the sensor platforms (clams) in the same manner that shellfish are seeded. The clams will be spread across a body of water by boat. After they have been distributed, they will open their shells, releasing gas, and descend into the water column. As they descend, they will sample the water with their onboard sensors. Once they have reached the bottom of the water column, their bladders will fill with gas and they will ascend to the surface where they will be collected in nets. Their data will then be uploaded to create a 3D map of water quality for that body of water.

Once the clams are fully developed, future missions could have the clams deployed in the benthic zone. Instead of staying planktonic, the clams would settle out of the water column onto the sea bottom, and stay there for long periods taking measurements.

code for anemone- modify for clam

x-python-script - 7.05 kB - 10/22/2018 at 13:12



code for anemone- modify for clam

C Source File - 4.86 kB - 10/22/2018 at 13:12


code for anemone- modify for clam

x-python-script - 5.76 kB - 10/22/2018 at 13:12



code for anemone- modify for clam

makefile - 314.00 bytes - 10/22/2018 at 13:12


code for anemone- modify for clam

x-python-script - 14.50 kB - 10/22/2018 at 13:12


View all 22 files

  • Clam videos

    Michael Barton-Sweeney11/02/2018 at 20:41 1 comment

    I don't have a lot of videos of the clams, and need to setup a regime for testing that includes video documentation, but I came across some video I made a few years ago of the first clam while I was testing it's solenoid.

    Here are videos of it in air and in water before I attached the solenoid to the top shell:

    The first clam used an air core solenoid and was not very powerful, but was powerful enough to open the shell and break the seal (for the clam to descend into the water).

  • Saturometer Siphon

    Michael Barton-Sweeney10/29/2018 at 01:06 0 comments

    I got a new job at a startup this summer that has soaked up most of my time. That's not a bad thing because it is my dream job and I really like all my coworkers, but the clam project is my dream project, so I want to keep pushing forward. It's the nature of free software/open source projects that they are not profit driven and are dependent upon support from other things. I am hoping to find a better balance, so I can keep making progress.

    I have passed two major milestones for my ability to contribute to this project. I have become a diver and gotten my open water certificate for scuba, and can now start working in the environments where the clams will be. I have also transitioned all of the design and fabrication of the clam to CAD and 3D printing. That is really important, so that I can test the clams without worrying too much about losing them. The first two prototypes I made with thermoforming, casting, hand cutting and finishing. I initially considered them more as works of art than prototypes, and was really sad when they burned out during testing. Now, I can print out a new design, test it, and keep moving forward when the clams are lost.

    I have recently completed the first new 3D printed saturometer siphon and am beginning testing. It is essentially a gas collector and a water pump. The gas collector is made from a long length of silicone tubing. Silicone is gas permeable, so that if you have a thin enough membrane, and enough surface area, you can have a significant amount of gas pass through. An absolute pressure sensor is then used to measure the pressure of the gas in the tube, and give the total dissolved gas pressure.

    The water pump is made from a silicone chamber and two valves. The valves are made from diaphragms taken from my air respirator, and 3D printed holders. Water flow is essential for getting an accurate pressure reading, so water needs to be pumped across the gas collector. This design is too big to fit into the clam, so it will need to be tested and miniaturized.

  • Clam prototypes

    Michael Barton-Sweeney10/28/2018 at 23:36 0 comments

    Video of clam prototypes

  • Circuit

    Michael Barton-Sweeney10/22/2018 at 13:00 0 comments

    The circuit is adapted from previous projects. There is a raspberry pi connected to an atmega, with an op-amp for the pressure sensor, a simple motor driver, batteries and a 5v regulator. I've simplified the motor driver, so that it only passes current in one direction (the previous design had two push-pulls on each coil, which is unnecessary for just squeezing a pump chamber).

    I learned one major lesson about driving coils from my last prototype. You must have two zener diodes in parallel to each coil, so that when you stop passes current through the coil, it does not burn out your circuit. When current stops, the magnet field that was created collapses and reverses voltage. This voltage will build until it can flow. If you have two zener diodes in opposite orientations in series with each other, and have them parallel to the coil, then you can provide a pathway for current to flow through the coil, and not through out your electronics :)

  • Saturometer

    Michael Barton-Sweeney10/22/2018 at 12:45 0 comments

    The saturometer is essentially a long length of silastic tubing that connects to a pressure sensor. Because the clam will be underwater, I am using an absolute pressure sensor, instead of a differential one. The silastic tubing is strung along four support rods, and will be placed inside a silicone tube connected to the outflow valve on the pump chamber.

  • Siphon Pump

    Michael Barton-Sweeney10/22/2018 at 12:40 0 comments

    This prototype is essentially a pump. The pump is essential to create water flow for the saturometer to work. I made valves by using the diaphragms from an old respirator, and designing a new retainer ring modeled off of the one in the respirator. I made the pump chamber from silicone, using a balloon as the form. When squeezed, it pumps a small amount of water (or air) through it. In the future, I want to use a 3D printed form for the bladder.

  • FreeCAD

    Michael Barton-Sweeney10/22/2018 at 12:24 0 comments

    I used FreeCAD to make all of the 3D designs. I primarily used the Part Design, Part and Mesh workbenches. My workflow was to make sketches, and pad, pocket or revolve in Part Design, then move to Part for boolean operations (for interlocking parts), then export the shape as a mesh.

    I redesigned the teeth, solenoids, and valves for the siphon pump. I used a clear acrylic shell, because I am still focused on placement and the relationships between the teeth, solenoid and valve. Once I know their placement, they will be integrated into the shells.

  • 3D Printer

    Michael Barton-Sweeney10/22/2018 at 12:12 0 comments


    I haven't updated in awhile. I got a new job this summer working for a startup, and moved cross country to Florida. That soaked up most of my time, but I have made some progress on the project.

    Given my limited time, I made a big mistake with how I went forward with the 3D printing. I spent several weekends trying to resurrect my old Kossel (RepRap delta printer), and achieved only dismal results.  There were a lot of little problems that were frustrating to overcome. In this case, my instincts of trying to implement everything myself really failed me. If you have infinite time, it is a great ethos, but if you have a deadline, it's terrible.

    With the deadline looming, I ordered a Lulzbot Mini 2, and it arrived just in time to give me one last weekend to produce a new prototype before the last round of Hackaday Prize qualifications. Thankfully, the Lulzbot was plug and play, so I was able to focus on the project and not the 3D printer.

  • Saturometer & Siphon

    Michael Barton-Sweeney05/02/2018 at 01:27 0 comments

    The clam is a sensor platform for measuring water quality. So far, I have experimented with thermistors as stand-ins for more complex water quality sensors. I am developing a new saturometer, in order to bootstrap the capabilities of the clam. Saturometers are used to measure the total dissolved gas (TDG) in water. Monitoring TDG is important for understanding and mitigating issues related to supersaturation of water, which can cause large fish kills. I will take a naturalistic approach to how I develop the new saturometer probe, and will apply a machine learning technique, linear regression, for its calibration.


    I am basing my work off of one of my dad's patents for the saturometer he developed in the early 1990's. I want to thank him for talking with me about my new design, and for letting me learn in his shop while I was a kid.


    My dad developed his saturometer before the internet was widespread. Powerful computers, SMD technology, and 3D printing were not widely available, nor was knowledge of machine learning techniques. My design for the clam is taking advantage of the developments over the last two decades. The redesign of the saturometer will focus on improving the ease of fabrication of the probe and improving the ease of calibration by incorporating linear regression, a simple machine learning technique.

    Saturometers are used to measure total dissolved gas (TDG) in water. It is important to measure TDG, in order to study and mitigate supersaturation (for example, in this study of using microbubbles). Supersaturation can be caused by spillways at dams, in water turbine vents, hatcheries and other man-made or natural structure that entrain air in water. Additionally, it can be caused by other processes, such as photosynthesis of algae. Gas bubble disease (GDB) is caused by supersaturation and can cause large fish kills. Fish have a limited ability to detect supersaturation and cannot avoid it if present, so it is imperative that we monitor and mitigate it.

    Sweeney Saturometer

    Saturometers are able to measure TDG by taking advantage of a property of silicone: permeation. Gases are able to pass through silicone tubing, so by measuring the pressure within the silicone tubing, the saturometer is able to measure the TDG within the fluid. The saturometer probe is composed of silicone tubing wound around a support structure and connected to a pressure sensor inside a protective mesh cover. The probe is attached to a metal tube that produces waterflow across the probe when moved in the water column. Waterflow is important for getting accurate readings. Here is a Youtube video of the saturometer in action.

    To calibrate the saturometer, it is necessary to use an external device. The probe can be calibrated without the silicone tubing using an air compressor, a manometer and a coupling. It can also be calibrated submerged in water with a controlled pressure and another saturometer.

    In order to make fast measurements, the thickness of the tubing needs to be decreased, and the surface area of the tubing increased by increasing the length of the tubing. The volume of the tubing can be decreased by inserting a filament like fishing line into the tubing. Additionally, by adjusting the calculations of the measurements and looking at the rate of change, fast estimates can be made before the pressures have reached equilibrium.

    Siphon: Initial Design & Fabrication

    My design for the saturometer probe will use a coil of silicone tubing without an armature. The tubing will be placed inside a silicone siphon, and be packed loosely. 

    I will use the same methods and materials that I used for the previous clam experiments. I will use the same electronic circuit but add op-amps and an absolute pressure sensor. I will pick through the old inventory of saturometer parts and use what is available. There are some inexpensive modern SMD pressure sensors that I would like to experiment with, but that part of the design can...

    Read more »

  • Additional Material Considerations

    Michael Barton-Sweeney04/23/2018 at 18:54 0 comments

    In addition to the previous considerations about shells and batteries, the materials for the seals, bladders and circuits need to be considered too. All of the clams will be put in the water, and face the potential of getting lost. They all need to withstand the environment and not pollute it.

    Here are some thoughts on the different materials, and their durability, toxicity, accumulation in the environment, and fabrication. The choices available right now for rubbers and electronics are not ideal, but are adequate for this stage of the project. Further research should be conducted and a complete life-cycle assessment of the clam should be made.

    Seals and Bladders

    Silicone seems like the best rubber for the seals and bladders right now. It is extremely durable, has low toxicity, and it is easy to fabricate parts with it. On the other hand, because of its low degradation, it has very high accumulation in the environment.

    Silicone rubber is a siloxane made of long chains of silicon and oxygen with attached organic groups. It gets its durability from the silicon-oxygen bond. It is resistant to many chemicals, including salt water, hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate, so it is suitable to be used as part of the buoyancy system in the clam.

    High molecular weight siloxanes, like silicone rubber are not toxic, but low molecular weight siloxanes, like silicone fluid used in cosmetics and as defoaming agents, can be toxic. Because the clam will use high molecular weight siloxanes, toxicity to the environment is probably not a concern.

    On the other hand, accumulation in the environment is a major concern. As a result of the durability of silicone rubber, it has low degradation. It does not photodegrade or biodegrade, and is considered a 'very persistent chemical.' This is an area of active research, so I would like to find studies that look at it in a marine environment (here is an example study that I found for a lake).

    It would be nice to use a rubber that does not accumulate. I experimented with natural rubber latex, but I did not find it suitable. I did not vulcanize the rubber and it deteriorated rapidly in use.

    Natural rubber is made of polyisoprene chains. During vulcanization, polyisoprene chains are cross-linked with sulfur, making a more durable rubber. Natural rubber and vulcanized rubber can be degraded by a variety of mechanisms, including chlorine, metals, photodegradation and biodegradation

    Natural rubber in a marine environment has been extensively studied by the Navy, and the aging process is well understood. If a simple DIY vulcanization process could be figured out, it might be possible to use natural rubber for the seals and bladders. It would be beneficial to use natural rubber, but because of the difficulties involved in making it suitable, I will not be investigating it for now, but will use silicone instead.

    It is easy to fabricate parts with silicone. I used Oogoo for the seals for the clam, and laid them up in place by hand using tape. I like using Oogoo, because it is made with readily available silicone I caulk from the hardware store, but it contains cornstarch, which may make it unsuitable for long-term use. I did not notice any problems with the seals, but silicone is permeable and the cornstarch could attract microorganisms. I made the bladders by coating a form with rubber (natural rubber latex or Smooth-on Sorta-Clear).

    For the new design, I will translate the process, so that molds can be 3D printed. Instead of one seal between the shells, the clams will have two seals (one for each shell). The seals will be made by casting silicone on the lip of the shell, bounded by a 3D printed mold that will look like a mouth guard or dental tray. The bladders will either be cast in two parts and bonded, or they could be cast around a dissolvable filament form. Silicone does not perform well with terpenes, so the dissolvable filament will need to be PVA or Hydrofill and not HIPS. Another...

    Read more »

View all 13 project logs

  • 1
    Print shell, valve and other parts

    Right now, the teeth and solenoids have not been integrated into the shell, so they must be printed separately and attached (I used silicone).

  • 2
    Make pump chamber

    Coat the form for the pump chamber with silicone. Separate form from silicone chamber and trim. Attach with more silicone to the valves. Make additional tube section for saturometer. Silicone saturometer into tube section, and attach tube section to outflow valve on pump chamber.

  • 3
    Attach teeth and solenoid

    Silicone the teeth and solenoid to the shell (if they are not already printed on shell).

View all 5 instructions

Enjoy this project?



erifa.ole wrote 03/13/2022 at 12:39 point

You did a great job sharing this open-source program. I would love to try this and modify it for my short term mortgages project.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Cameron wrote 06/07/2019 at 21:26 point

This is a really interesting project! Did you 3D print the new shells and have an stl file?

  Are you sure? yes | no

EK wrote 11/08/2018 at 15:18 point

Nice to hear more about your project at Supercon!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Vishnu Mohanan wrote 05/19/2018 at 13:01 point

Congratulations for being selected on the first round of HaD Prize 2018 ;)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Michael Barton-Sweeney wrote 05/24/2018 at 04:18 point

Thank you so much!

  Are you sure? yes | no

donald murray wrote 05/16/2018 at 19:12 point

How about ultrasonic networking so they can just be placed there and stay there.....maybe finding a way to regenerate power from tidal action. This way you could tell it to surface maybe once a year for maintenance, etc..

  Are you sure? yes | no

Michael Barton-Sweeney wrote 05/18/2018 at 04:57 point

Yeah, that would be awesome. I've looked a little into underwater communication but it seems like it would be difficult to build a robust system. I'm signed up for the WUWNET mailing list (, and am looking at what that community is creating, but if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear. Ultimately, it seems like that would be the way to go.

  Are you sure? yes | no

donald murray wrote 05/19/2018 at 10:48 point

I'd imagine if you used a cheap ultrasonic transducer like those made for arduino, you could develop a simple communication  protocol. Ultrasonics should work well under water.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Lee Djavaherian wrote 04/15/2018 at 17:33 point

I like seeing water-related projects and like your use of materials, inspiration from nature, the acrylic shaping, the gas-filled bladder/bouyancy, the solenoid, and the creative circuit assembly.  Fascinating device and has lots of potential.  Looks like something fun to work with, too.  Great work!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Michael Barton-Sweeney wrote 04/15/2018 at 19:24 point

Hey, Thanks! Your comment made my day. I think acrylic is an awesome material to work with; almost anything you make looks great. If you're interested, here's a link to a simple type of oven that I use to blow the bubbles: 

I'm a big fan of nature inspired technology too. Especially with marine invertebrates, it seems like so many technological solutions already exist that we can apply to our problems.

  Are you sure? yes | no

ch.dugasduvillard wrote 04/11/2018 at 07:05 point

Nice project ! Have you think about using the wave and mouvement to charge your battery or as a power source?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Michael Barton-Sweeney wrote 04/11/2018 at 20:22 point

Hi! That would be really interesting to explore. I think that if the clams were deployed for long missions that could be a great solution. Right now, these clams are planktonic, floating up and down in the water column, but if they were benthic we could harness the power of the tide. Maybe a different shellfish inspired sensor platform? :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Michael Barton-Sweeney wrote 04/11/2018 at 20:32 point

I could imagine a sensor platform that gets released and then attaches itself to rocks like mussels in the intertidal zone. It could be buoyant and use the force on its byssus threads to generate electricity. I'm not sure what would be the most efficient way to translate that force into electricity, but there is active research into how mussels produce byssus polymers, so we might get some inspiration for that part of the problem:

  Are you sure? yes | no

Vishnu Mohanan wrote 03/21/2018 at 17:19 point

I'm curious to know about type of sensors you're using for measure water quality. The circuit construction also seems really interesting and would love to see the schematic :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Michael Barton-Sweeney wrote 03/21/2018 at 17:39 point

Hi Vishnu! Right now, I am using a thermistor as a stand-in for other sensors. I am developing the platform so that the sensors are modular. I have done some experimentation with older chemical sensors for dissolved oxygen, but the goal would be to use newer optical sensors, in addition to pressure sensors for total dissolved gas. Optical sensors can be used to measure a variety of chemicals, like oxygen, oil, nitrates, as well as pH and turbidity.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Michael Barton-Sweeney wrote 03/21/2018 at 17:42 point

I used free-form soldering and blown plastic for the first two prototypes, but I am switching to PCBs and 3-D printed bodies for the newer versions. I'll share the schematics in a project log.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Vishnu Mohanan wrote 03/21/2018 at 17:48 point

Interesting! Looking forward to see the optical sensor in action. Are all those components covered in some water repellent epoxy just to be safe ? If yes, what material is it ? Or is it just glue ?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Michael Barton-Sweeney wrote 03/21/2018 at 18:21 point

Hi Vishnu, yes, they have a conformal coating of epoxy. I have not developed optical sensors yet, but I have researched their operation and how to build them. I would want to team up with others to develop them, but until then, I am focusing on the platform and using older tech for the sensors.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Vishnu Mohanan wrote 03/21/2018 at 18:24 point

Sounds great! I'll keep an eye on here becasue sensors have become a really interesting topic for me ;)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Similar Projects

Does this project spark your interest?

Become a member to follow this project and never miss any updates