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SnotBot Drone Used for Whale Research Goes to the U.N.

BY Zacc Dukowitz
7 June 2017

Who needs some good news?

We sure do, and it comes today in the form of a drone called the SnotBot making its way to the U.N.

Ocean Alliance CEO Dr. Iain Kerr wrote recently to let us know that his whale research drone—the SnotBot—will be featured this week at the U.N.’s World Oceans Day celebration. (Dr. Kerr and his Science Officer Andy Rogan are students of Drone Pilot Ground School, our test prep course for the FAA’s Part 107 exam, and he mentioned that they both recently passed the test. Congrats guys!)

DJI Stories - Snotbot: Pushing the Frontiers of Whale Research

What Is the SnotBot, and Why Is It Important?

According to its creators at the Ocean Alliance:

“SnotBots are custom-built drones created in partnership between Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering. They hover in the air above a surfacing whale and collect the blow (or snot) exhaled from its lungs. SnotBot then returns that sample back to researchers a significant distance away.”

– Ocean Alliance website

In essence, the SnotBot is a drone that allows researchers to study whales without harassing them. Which is important not just for whale research, but because this model could potentially be used for  lots of other research and conservation efforts—just one more great example of drones doing good in the world.


Image source

The whale blow that SnotBots collect contains DNA, microbiomes, pregnancy hormones, stress hormones, and ketones. SnotBot’s video camera collects behavioral data and also provides beautiful imagery of whales in their natural habitat.

In contrast to the SnotBot’s non-invasive approach, most current methods of physical sample collection from whales involve pursuit in a motorized boat and firing a biopsy dart from a crossbow. In addition to causing stress to the whales, it’s believed this approach can skew results, especially with regard to understanding stress levels for whales outside of captivity.

SnotBot at the U.N.

This year, the World Oceans Day celebration will be held at the Great Hall of the United Nations in New York City on Thursday, June 8.

Ocean Alliance CEO Dr. Iain Kerr will be at the celebration speaking about the role of technological innovation in ocean conservation, and introducing U.N. delegates to the SnotBot as a prime case in point of the possibilities of new technology for research and conservation efforts.

Other noteworthy attendees expected for the celebration are philanthropist Richard Branson, director James Cameron, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and oceanographer Sylvia Earle. All will be making presentations during the celebration, in addition to a live feed from the International Space Station.


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The SnotBot’s Journey

We wrote about the SnotBot almost a year ago when the Ocean Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting ocean and human health, had just completed their first mission using the SnotBot to collect data from whales in a non-invasive way.

But the SnotBot was launched even before then, in a partnership with Yuneec that was announced all the way back in late 2015 .

At the time Yuneec donated its Typhoon and Tornado UAVs to help the Ocean Alliance conduct marine mammal research, attaching petri dishes to the multicopters so they could fly into clouds of spray exhaled by whales.


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Since that partnership launched, DJI has also partnered with the Ocean Alliance, providing their Phantom 4 and Inspire 1 drones to help marine mammal researchers collect samples from whales.

Want to learn more about the SnotBot and the great work the Ocean Alliance is doing? Watch this extended interview with Patrick Stewart to learn more.

Patrick Stewart Learns About Snotbot and Drones with Ocean Alliance - Extended Interview

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