NAMOS - Robot Boat & Networked Marine Sampling

Predicting future needs and the technology needed to achieve those needs



NAMOS is a collaborative research project involving robotics, sensor networks and marine biology.


The work is motivated by the scientific objective of obtaining high resolution information on spatio-temporal distribution of plankton assemblages in aquatic environments. 


The goal is to develop robust, decentralized algorithms and supporting hardware that enable the network consisting of buoys and boat to perform adaptive hydrographic sampling using the information provided by the network.



NAMOS buoy, static marine aquatic biological organism sampling system




The static nodes continuously monitor the aquatic environment at the location they are deployed and communicate the collected sensor information to the robotic boat, which conducts more detailed local sampling. 


Each static node consists of a stargate board, an ADC board, a battery, a fluorometer and an array of 6 thermistors, which are mounted on a wooden chassis and sealed inside a water-proof container.


The stargate board uses Intel's 400MHz X-scale processor (PXA255) and an 802.11b wireless card for inter-node communication. It locally logs sensor data received from the ADC board, and transmits such data back to a base station.


The ADC board consists of a basic stamp module (24pin micro-controller BS2sx from Parallax, and two ADC chips (16 bit single channel ADS1100 and 12 bit 8 channel ADS7828 from Digi-Key). We use the basic stamp to control the two ADC chips to obtain data from the sensors. The ADC board is connected to the Stargate board through a USB/Serial converter.


Two types of sensors are used: fluorometers and thermistors. A fluorometer measures the concentration of chlorophyll-a which is indicative of the density of certain photosynthetic micro-organisms in the environment. The CYCLOPS-7 submersible fluorometer from Turner Designs Inc is used. It has three user settable gain ranges, which provide a wide measurement dynamic range of 0.03 to 500 micrograms/l. The thermistors used have an accuracy of 0.1 Celsius. They are covered with a custom Titanium coating to make them corrosion resistant. The sensors are suspended from the side of the buoy into the water. The fluorometer is lowered to a depth of 1m below the water surface while the 5 thermistors are uniformly deployed from 0.5m to 2.5m below the water surface. 

Each buoy is powered by a car battery which can be recharged via an external solar panel. Without recharging, a buoy can operate continuously for about a week. Preliminary measurements indicate that connecting the solar panel could potentially increase the lifetime to several weeks.


NAMOS robot aquatic biological sampler  NAMOS national science foundation grant






To achieve a high degree of spatial sampling, a robotic boat that can sense and collect samples for biological analysis is included in the network. The boat is directed by information collected and processed within the network to identify features of biological interest [e.g. temperature gradients, peaks in fluorescence (i.e. chlorophyll)] that it then samples. The boat can take measurements and samples at locations where the static entities cannot reach. It can track moving phenomena at greater spatio-temporal resolution than a static network alone. It can also potentially be equipped with expensive one of kind equipment which cannot be replicated for reasons of cost. 

The prototype boat is a modified RC airboat (air propeller minimizes disturbance to the water). All modules are connected to the main processor (the stargate board) via the RS-485 bus. This makes it easy to plug in additional modules without affecting the existing modules. The boat is equipped with a GPS (Garmin 16A GPS) and compass V2XE 2-axis digital compass from PNI Corp.) for navigation. The sensor suite on the boat consists of a thermistor and a fluorometer that are interfaced with the boat via the ADC board similar to the one on the static nodes.


Communication with other nodes is based on EmStar over an 802.11b wireless connection. The boat is powered using rechargeable NiMH batteries which give it an approximate lifetime of 4-6 hours of continuous operation. The work undertaken via NAMOS, is now undertaken via CINAPS.







CINAPS (pronounced [sin-aps]) is the Center for Integrated Networked Aquatic PlatformS located at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, California. The goal of CINAPS is to bridge the gap between technology, communication, and the scientific exploration of local and regional aquatic ecosystems. More specifically, the center is aimed at maintaining a finger on the pulse of our local coastal waters and the timely dissemination of information related to harmful algal blooms and general water quality to scientists, policy makers and the general public.

Like the chemical synapse in the human brain, CINAPS is a specialized interface that forms a communication circuit between each of the pieces in our coastal observing system, allowing for optimization of sensing and sampling strategies and to provide information about the performance of the system as a whole. CINAPS attains this broad goal by bringing together the minds and resources of experts in applied oceanography, robotics, phytoplankton ecology, and computer science.

CINAPS work is currently focused on regions of the Southern California Bight and is made up primarily of three different research groups at USC:

Caron Lab: Researchers in David Caron's group study the role of phytoplankton and protists in aquatic microbial ecology, and specifically focus on dynamics of harmful algal blooms in Southern California waters.

RESL (the Robotic Embedded Systems Laboratory): Computer scientists and engineers in Gaurav Sukhatme’s group develop robotic and computational tools and techniques to design and understand multi-scale, distributed natural phenomena.

usCLAB: Oceanographers in Burt Jones' group focus on understanding integrated coastal ocean processes such as the coupling between physics, chemistry and biology in the initiation of algal blooms.

CINAPS is, by its very nature, a highly collaborative group that brings together expertise from several fields to work towards the common goal of tackling some of the difficult problems facing aquatic ecosystems today. This collaboration extends far beyond the walls of USC to a large network of partners, and we aspire to wholly integrate the public into our understanding of our complex but important coastal ecosystem.




920 Downey Way, BHE-B15, Los Angeles, CA 90089. Telephone: (213) 821-2627.

NAMOS computer navigation architecture

The report above is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CCF-0120778.







US Department of Navy Research, development & Acquisition -

US Fleet Forces Command -


Kickstarter robotboat mark vi projecti










The key to accurate hydrographic mapping is continuous monitoring, for which the Bluefish SNAV 40 meter platform, presently under development, is a robotic ocean workhorse. Based on a stable SWASH hull this design is under development in the UK, looking for international agents and partners. The robot ship uses no diesel fuel to monitor the oceans autonomously (COLREGS compliant) at relatively high speed 24/7 and 365 days a year - only possible with the revolutionary (patent) energy harvesting system. The hullform is ideal for automatic release and recovery of ROVs or towed arrays, alternating between drone and fully autonomous modes. Licences will be available for local build with technology transfer.  This vessel pays for itself in fuel saved every ten years: The next generation of zero carbon ships.



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