The Long Road from Idea to Reality for the NeXOS Project


Eric Delory (left) explains NeXOS passive acoustic sensor capabilities to IEEE Earthzine Editor-in-Chief Paul Racette at the OCEANS 17 conference in Anchorage. Image Credit: Jenny Woodman

October brings the end of a four-year NeXOS initiative to develop the next generation of web-enabled smart sensors. Funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, the initiative set out to deliver “The Ocean of Tomorrow” by way of a multi-disciplinary effort to observe the ocean and its inhabitants with sustainable marine technology.

NeXOS developed a set of sensors to address specific needs in optics, acoustics, and an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF).

Several optical sensors were designed for in situ observations of phytoplankton and dissolved components in the water. In addition to the specific functions these sensors were developed to perform, they also needed to alert users of any build up or biofouling to minimize maintenance and improve data collection.

Acoustic sensors had to record and transmit data for a wide range of frequencies, from low frequency noises produced by geologic activity to high frequency echolocation clicks of bottlenose dolphins.

Each of the sensors are interoperable, meaning they were designed to operate in the Sensor Web Enablement (SWE) environment, an evolving standard of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), an international organization working to establish and support geospatial standards.

Anyone who has traveled with a set of outlet adapters to use electric power in different countries has experienced a situation where a lack of standards is merely an inconvenience. Costlier examples can be found in aviation and healthcare, where these industries have struggled over the years to integrate diverse computer systems all speaking different “languages.”

The MatrixFlu (O1) optic sensor (top) and the passive acoustic A1 sensor (bottom). Image Credit: Jenny Woodman

Simply put, this means that an engineer designing a sensor in Europe to the standards can expect it to function properly when installed on a buoy designed in the United States.

With many marine sensors, there are often costly proprietary solutions for integrating into a given platform or managing the data collection and transmission. The NeXOS sensors are open source, which allows the end user to customize and freely share data with others, and thanks to the OGC standards, they can have a reasonable expectation that interfaces will not be an issue.

“A substantial amount of engineering time is used to interface new sensors with platforms. With the rapid evolution of sensors and platforms and the increasing demands for ocean observation, we need to find ways to reduce these interface and maintenance costs,” said Jay Pearlman, IEEE Fellow and NeXOS Work Package lead. “Using software and hardware standards and best practices that facilitate interoperability is a key to the next generation of systems.”

With uniform standards, NeXOS sensors will work on a variety of ocean-observing platforms – from buoys to gliders, autonomous vehicles cabled underwater observatories. The sensors will help provide in situ monitoring in marine environments that can be customized to meet the unique demands of different platforms and end users.

“It was a very aggressive project,” said Eric Delory, principal investigator for the project. Delory said the sensors are at a technology readiness level (TRL) of 7 and 8 on a scale from 1 to 9, which means the technology is close to being ready for commercial use.

Delory explains that while the project is coming to an end, the teams will continue to work on improvements and field validations. Once users start to work and interact with the sensors, there will be new areas to examine for optimizing performance based on specific user needs.

This article was funded in part by the NeXOS project by Grant Agreement No. 614102 under the call FP7-OCEAN-2013.2 from the European Commission.

Jenny Woodman is a science writer and Writing Fellowship coordinator for IEEE Earthzine. Follow her on Twitter @JennyWoodman.