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Researchers Submit Patent Application, "Autonomous Device with Biofouling Control and Method for Monitoring Aquatic Environment", for Approval

June 25, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Electronics Newsweekly -- From Washington, D.C., VerticalNews journalists report that a patent application by the inventors Kelly, Vincent M. (Easton, MD); Luce, Stephen M. (Media, PA); Codispoti, Louis Anthony (Oxford, MD), filed on August 16, 2013, was made available online on June 12, 2014.

No assignee for this patent application has been made.

News editors obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "There is an ever increasing interest in the deployment of autonomous devices for monitoring biological, chemical and physical conditions in aquatic environments. This interest encompasses monitoring hydrographic conditions, fisheries, weather prediction, and global change in the open ocean. It also includes estuaries where interest arises from concerns about pollution, harmful algal blooms, living resources and biological diversity.

"Reflecting the need for autonomously collected data, the advances in technology have produced reasonably affordable instrumentation capable of collecting and telemetering data. However, biofouling remains a major problem that to date has not been adequately addressed. The amount of growth that can accumulate in and around sensors over periods as short as 5 days can be great in high nutrient estuarine environments. Biofouling is, for a large percentage of instrumentation deployments, the single biggest factor affecting the operation, maintenance, and data quality of in-water monitoring sensors, and therefore biofouling prevention for sensor systems is considered a major issue in aquatic environment monitoring.

"The scientific community recognizes that not only should sensors of monitoring devices be protected from biofouling, but additionally the environment surrounding the sensors must also be protected since in some cases, fouling can become so extreme that one can question whether the sensors are sampling the ambient water or a microenvironment controlled by the activities of the fouling organisms.

"The biofouling of ships and instrumentation is typically controlled through the use of toxic paints incorporating metal biocides, e.g. cuprous oxide, and organometals, e.g. tributyltin. Anti biofouling paints cannot be put directly on the sensors and may not be sufficiently soluble to provide a 'halo' effect that will protect the sensors. In addition, anti-biofouling paints can sometimes accumulate films that could inhibit sensor performance, after short periods of immersion. Also, mechanical systems, such as anti-fouling wipers have been developed and used in multi-parameter monitor devices. However, the anti-fouling paints are extremely toxic and thus are harmful for living organisms, while wipers do not have the capability of complete prevention and removal of bio-fouling, thereby only partially addressing the bio-fouling problem. These wipers can also become substrate for fouling organisms and thus scratch optically clear surfaces.

"Usually, deployed instrumentation is serviced weekly or biweekly (depending on a region and season) to remove deposits of bio-organisms from the sensors or to replace the deployed sensors with cleaned and recently calibrated sensors. This is a time and cost consuming endeavor which makes aquatic environments monitoring extremely expensive and labor intensive.

"There is therefore a need and ever increasing interest in monitoring of chemical and physical conditions in aquatic environments to provide autonomous devices capable of extended instrument deployment and of obtaining uncorrupted data by controlling the biofouling and eliminating the effect of biofouling on device operations."

As a supplement to the background information on this patent application, VerticalNews correspondents also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent application: "Accordingly, the present invention is directed to biofouling resistant programmable autonomous monitoring device deployed in an aquatic environment by means of periodically exposing deployed environmental sensor(s) to a biocide environment after one or more programmable sampling sequences are completed by the sensor(s), thereby protecting the sensors and their immediate surrounding of the sensors from biofouling formation. Periodically between sampling events, the immediate surrounding of sensor is filled with anti-fouling biocide uniformly dispersed therein. A preprogrammed controller (microprocessor) in the autonomous device controls operation of mechanical/electrical mechanisms of the autonomous device in synchrony with the sensors' sampling cycle and biocide release. Programmable variables include sampling frequencies, biocide dispense times and amounts, etc., as well as modalities for remote data acquisition system. Synchronization of the device and the instrument can be achieved by an external control device or data logger or by the instrument.

"It is one object of the present invention to provide a device with bio-fouling control for autonomous monitoring of a fluid environment, comprising:

"at least one sensor unit operationally controllable to operate in accordance with a predetermined sampling cycle, the sampling cycle including at least one sampling time period followed by an anti-fouling treatment time period, a sensor envelope positioned in a surrounding relationship with the at least one sensor unit and defining a chamber containing the at least one sensor unit, at least one source of an anti-fouling matter contained in the chamber the source of anti-fouling matter comprising an outer sleeve and at least one inner sleeve arranged substantially concentric with respect to the outer sleeve and having a closable upper end and a closed lower end which establish an annular reservoir space filled with biocide matter, the source further comprising a biocide outlet means and vent in fluid communication with the chamber, a magnetic stirrer and a preprogrammed control unit operatively coupled to the sensor envelope and the at least one source of the anti-fouling matter, wherein the preprogrammed control unit actuates the sensor envelope to provide fluid communication between the at least one sensor unit and a fluid during the at least one sampling time period, and further activates the at least one source of the anti-fouling matter to create an anti-fouling environment in the chamber during the anti-fouling treatment time period.

"The sensor envelope comprises a housing having at least one window, the at least one window being opened, under control of the preprogrammed control unit, during the at least one sampling time period to permit the fluid inside the sensor envelope in contact with the at least one sensor unit, and wherein the at least one window is controllably closed during the anti-fouling treatment time period to maintain the anti-fouling environment inside the sensor envelope.

"It is another object of the present invention to provide a device with bio-fouling control for autonomous monitoring of aquatic environments wherein the preprogrammed control unit synchronizes opening/closing of at least one window of the housing with the controllable release of the biocide matter in the chamber.

"In one embodiment, the housing comprises an outer cup and an inner cup positioned in concentric relationship with the outer cup, the outer cup having an outer cup wall and a plurality of outer cup openings formed at predetermined positions on the outer cup wall, and the inner cup having an inner cup wall and a plurality of inner cup openings formed at predetermined positions on the inner cup wall, the inner and outer cups having a first relative disposition during the at least one sampling time period and a second relative disposition during the anti-fouling treatment time period, wherein in the first relative disposition between the inner and outer cups, respective ones of the plurality of inner cup openings and of the plurality of outer cup openings are positioned to overlap each other, and wherein in the second relative disposition between the inner and outer cups, the respective inner cup and outer cup openings are displaced each from the other in a controlled manner.

"In another embodiment, during the anti-fouling treatment time period, the displacement between the respective inner cup and outer cup openings is synchronized with the release of the biocide matter by the preprogrammed control unit.

"In another embodiment, the device further comprises an actuation unit operatively coupled to either of the inner and outer cups to establish a respective one of the first and second relative dispositions therebetween in accordance with instructions received from the preprogrammed control unit and wherein the control unit further includes a microprocessor preprogrammed prior to deployment of the device in the fluid environment.

"In another embodiment, the device further comprises a non-volatile memory, wherein data obtained from the at least one sensor unit is stored in the non-volatile memory under control of the preprogrammed microprocessor and wherein the device further includes an interface port, the data being dispatched periodically from the non-volatile memory to a telemetry and data collection system via a communication link established between the device and the telemetry and data collection system.

"In another embodiment, the autonomous device further comprises still and video cameras inside the sampling chamber/sensor envelop, in addition to sensors, as additional protected instruments to be protected from biofouling.

"In yet another embodiment, the autonomous device includes a separate or augmented command and control from an external device such as the protected instrument, sensor or additional instruments or a data logger that controls and synchronizes both the autonomous device of the present invention and the protected instruments. In one embodiment, both the autonomous device of the present invention and the instruments/sensors are package controlled by one set of electronics.

"In yet another variation, the sampling chamber comprises only one cup or that instead of rotating to open, is lowered completely away from the sampling chamber on a carrier screw(s) so that the protected device is exposed to the ambient environment with no obstructions other than the carrier screw(s). This embodiment would be particularly useful for Pan, Tilt, Zoom underwater cameras.

"It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a device with bio-fouling control for autonomous monitoring of aquatic environments comprising a first and second co-axial supporting disks positioned in the chamber and rotationally displaceable about an axis thereof, the first and second co-axial supporting disks being spaced each from the other along the axis, wherein the inner cup is mounted on the first supporting disk, and wherein the outer cup is mounted on the second supporting disk, a plurality of ramp units positioned circumferentially on a surface of the second supporting disk a predetermined distance each from another between the first and second supporting disks; and a vent and valve mechanism mounted on the first supporting disk in a controllable contact with the at least one source of the anti-fouling matter, the valve mechanism being actuated by interaction with a respective one of the plurality of ramp units in accordance with a relative disposition between the first and second supporting disks to control opening of the vent or valve when the first and second co-axial supporting disks are rotationally displaced under control of the preprogrammed control unit.

"In one embodiment, the device further comprises a flushing unit inside the chamber operating to remove the anti-fouling environment therefrom upon completion of the anti-fouling treatment time period prior to the at least one sampling time period.

"In another embodiment, the device further comprises a casing connected to the sensor envelope at one end thereof, the casing having an internal cavity fluidly separated from the chamber of the sensor envelope, batteries and an actuator mechanism received within the internal cavity of the casing, and wherein the preprogrammed controller is received in the casing. The pressure casing for accommodating mechanical and electrical/electronic parts and batteries, as well as receives a printed circuit board with electronics necessary for operation of the device.

"It is yet another object of the invention to provide a method for bio-fouling control of an autonomous device for monitoring a fluid environment, comprising the steps of: forming a sensor envelope for at least one sensor unit, positioning the at least one sensor unit into a chamber defined within the sensor envelope, programming a control unit prior to deployment of the autonomous device in the fluid environment, deploying the autonomous device having the preprogrammed controller unit embedded therein in the fluid environment, opening the chamber to the fluid environment under control of the preprogrammed control unit to establish fluid communication between a fluid and the at least one sensor unit, sampling the fluid, upon completion of the sampling during at least one sampling time period, closing the chamber, and releasing, under the control of the preprogrammed control unit, at least one biocide matter from a biocide reservoir system comprising an outer sleeve and an inner sleeve arranged substantially concentric with respect to the outer sleeve and having a closable upper end and a closed lower end which establish an annular reservoir space filled with biocide matter, the biocide reservoir system further comprising a biocide outlet means and vent in fluid communication with the chamber to create an anti-fouling environment therein, thereby exposing the at least one sensor unit to the anti-fouling environment during an anti-fouling treatment time period.

"In one embodiment, the method comprises the addition of calibration chemicals into the sampling chamber.

"In one embodiment the method further comprises the steps of: upon completion of the anti-fouling treatment time period, opening the chamber, and replacing the anti-fouling environment in the chamber with the fluid being measured.

"In another embodiment, the method further comprises the step of: during the anti-fouling treatment time period, activating stirring of the anti-fouling environment by means of a magnetic stirrer to evenly disperse the at least one biocide matter within the chamber.

"In yet another embodiment, the method further comprises the steps of: recording data acquired during the at least one sampling period in a memory block of the autonomous device, establishing a communication link between the autonomous device and a data collection system, and sending the recorded data from the memory to the data collection system for further processing.

"In yet another embodiment, the method further comprises the steps of: preprogramming the control unit prior to the deployment of the autonomous device to embed therein operation parameters selected from the group consisting of: sampling frequencies, biocide dispense time, biocide dispense amount, stirring duration of the biocide in the chamber, duration of flushing of the anti-fouling environment from the chamber, duration of the sampling time period, duration of the anti-fouling treatment time period, duration of flushing fluid not treated with anti-foulant matter and parameters for synchronized operation of the autonomous device.

"It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a device with bio-fouling control for autonomous monitoring of a fluid environment, comprising: at least one sensor unit operating in accordance with a predetermined sampling cycle including at least one sampling time period followed by an anti-fouling treatment time period, a sensor envelope for the at least one sensor unit, the at least one sensor unit being disposed in a chamber defined by the sensor envelope, at least one biocide reservoir comprising an outer sleeve and inner sleeves arranged substantially multiconcentric with respect to the outer sleeve and having a closable upper end and a closed lower end which establish an annular reservoir space filled with biocide matter, the reservoir further comprising biocide outlet means and vents in controlled fluid communication with the chamber, a magnetic stirrer, an actuating unit operatively coupled to the at least one biocide reservoir, and a controller unit controlling the actuating unit in a programmable manner, wherein, during the anti-fouling treatment time period, upon completion of the at least one sampling time period, the actuating unit, under the control of the control unit, activates release of the biocide matter from the at least one biocide reservoir in a controlled fashion through a valve mechanism to create an anti-fouling environment in the chamber, thereby exposing the at least one sensor unit to the anti-fouling environment upon completion of the at least one sampling time period to substantially prevent and eliminate bio-fouling in immediate surrounding of the at least one sensor unit.

"One embodiment of the device comprises a sensor envelope (housing or container or chamber) surrounding the sensing units, a source of anti-fouling biocide, a magnetic stirrer, a control unit (preprogrammed microprocessor) which controllably opens the sensor envelope to create direct communication between the sensors and the fluid matter of interest during the sampling period, and which further closes the sensor envelope and 'instructs' the biocide source to release the biocide matter to create an anti-biofouling environment in the sensor envelope during the anti-fouling treatment periods.

"Preferably, the source of biocide or anti-fouling matter is a biocide reservoir surrounding a magnetic stirring propeller for even dispersal of a dense biocide solution or slurry throughout the closed sampling chamber. In a preferred embodiment, the biocide reservoir comprises an outer sleeve and an inner sleeve arranged substantially concentric with respect to the outer sleeve and having a closable upper end and a closed lower end which establish an annular reservoir space filled with biocide matter, the reservoir further comprising a biocide outlet means and vent in fluid communication with the chamber. The inner sleeve defines a central opening in the reservoir which is configured and adapted to extend radially around the magnetic stirrer blades of the propeller for rapid and even dispersal of the biocide matter.

"The toroid shape of this reservoir increases the efficiency of the magnetic stirring propeller because it surrounds the propeller as a ducted fan or kort nozzle, and because it incorporates valves that permit ambient water to enter and leave the reservoir, the reservoir can contain a large charge of biocide that is gradually dissolved by ambient water, thus allowing long deployment times. The provision of upper and lower valves to this reservoir permits bubbles that may be formed in the reservoir to be released upwards and a dense charge of biocide infused water to be released downwards. Ambient water enters the reservoir in small amounts during both of these processes and dissolves more biocide that can be released during the next cycle.

"The sensor envelope is preferably formed as a housing with one or several windows which are controllably opened/closed in accordance with the sampling cycle of the sensors. The housing may be implemented as a double-wall structure having an outer cup and an inner cup positioned in concentric relationship with each other and each having a plurality of openings of predetermined dimensions, and positioned at predetermined positions on the walls of the inner and outer cups. The controller changes a relative disposition between the inner and outer cups in synchrony with the sampling cycle of the sensors in order to control the relative disposition between the openings on the walls of the inner and outer cups, thereby controlling the extent of 'openness/closeness' of the chamber to the aquatic environment.

"The device further comprises an actuator unit operationally coupled to either the inner or outer cups to establish a respective relationship therebetween in accordance with the predetermined sampling cycle of the sensing unit(s) under the control of a microprocessor.

"The data collected during the sampling periods are written into a nonvolatile memory in the autonomous device and may be periodically dispatched telemetrically, if needed, to a remote data acquisition system for further analysis and processing.

"Parameters, such as sampling frequency, biocide dosing frequency (amount), etc., as well as a sequence of operations in the autonomous device, may be embedded into the microprocessor in a laboratory prior to deployment of the monitoring device, or changes made via telemtery. The microprocessor which is preprogrammed prior to deployment, controls the sampling cycle of the sensors, as well as relative disposition of the inner and outer cups, in synchrony with biocide release, collects data in the nonvolatile memory, and is further capable of processing the acquired data. A telemetry and data collection system may periodically request instrument data stored on the device's nonvolatile memory. Such data could then be displayed on the Internet for sharing the data with parties interested in such data receipt.

"Preferably, when the biocide matter is controllably released in the chamber, the anti-fouling environment is stirred to evenly dispense the biocide matter within the chamber. The magnetic stirrer is further run upon completion of the anti-fouling treatment period, opening the chamber, and replacing the anti-fouling environment in the chamber with the fluid matter of interest for the next sampling.

"The method of the invention further comprises, a controller (microprocessor) preprogrammed prior to deployment, so that the deployed autonomous monitoring device operates in accordance with the program and operational parameters 'embedded' in the microprocessor for an extended deployment period.

"The method of the invention further comprises sampling the water by sensors during sampling time intervals and writing the data onto nonvolatile memory within the autonomous device; when needed, establishing a communication link between the autonomous device and a remote computer system, and telemetrically sending the collected data from the memory to the remote computer system for further processing and analysis of the collected data.

"These and further objects of the present invention will become evident in view of further disclosure taken in conjunction with accompanying Patent Drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

"FIG. 1 is a schematic representation of the autonomous monitoring device and method of the present invention.

"FIG. 2A is a schematic cross-sectional view of a biocide reservoir system in the device of the present invention.

"FIG. 2B is a bottom and side perspective unit of a biocide reservoir of the biocide reservoir system of the present invention.

"FIG. 2C is a top perspective view of the biocide reservoir lid of the biocide reservoir system of the present invention.

"FIG. 2D is a cross-sectional view of the biocide reservoir of the biocide reservoir system of the present invention.

"FIGS. 2E and 2F are detail views of one embodiment of the biocide outlet valve openings of the biocide reservoir of the present invention.

"FIGS. 2G-2H are different perspective views of the biocide reservoir system's lid of the present invention.

"FIG. 2I-2J are cut out views of the biocide reservoir system's lid.

"FIG. 2K is another perspective view of the biocide reservoir system's lid of the present invention.

"FIGS. 2L-2M are different views of the vent and valve push pegs of biocide reservoir system.

"FIG. 2N is an illustration of the vent bushing of the biocide reservoir system.

"FIGS. 3A-3E represent perspective views of a ramp unit used for control of the biocide release.

"FIGS. 4A, 4B, and 4C, are representations of the autonomous monitoring device in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention showing the inner cup in a closed position (4A), partially open position (4B), and fully open position (4C).

"FIG. 5 is another illustration of the autonomous monitoring device in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

"FIGS. 6A, 6B and 6C are further representations of the autonomous monitoring device in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

"FIGS. 7A and 7B are illustrations of the bottom half of the present invention showing among other embodiments, the pressure case, chamber bulkhead and a schematic of the embodiments within the main shaft in cut-out view.

"FIG. 8 is an illustration of the magnetic stirrer in accordance with one embodiment of the invention.

"FIGS. 9A and 9B are illustrations of the propeller magnetic disk in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

"FIGS. 9C and 9D are illustrations of the stirrer motor magnetic disk in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

"FIG. 10A is an illustration of the chamber bulk head and the gear and shaft arrangements of the device.

"FIG. 10B is a cut-away view of the chamber bulk head in accordance with FIG. 10A.

"FIGS. 11A and 11B is a detailed illustration of the chamber bulkhead.

"FIG. 12 is a perspective view of the main shaft in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

"FIGS. 13A and 13B are perspective views of the inner cup disk.

"FIGS. 14A and 14B are perspective views of the inner cup.

"FIGS. 15A and 15B are perspective views of the outer cup in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

"FIGS. 16A and 16B are perspective views of the pressure case in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

"FIG. 17 is an illustration of the pressure chamber bottom plug.

"FIG. 18 is an illustration of the shaft gear.

"FIG. 19 is an illustration of the cup motor plate.

"FIG. 20 is an illustration of the shaft end cap.

"FIG. 21 is an illustration of a propeller in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

"FIGS. 22A and 22B are illustrations of the propeller mount.

"FIG. 23 is an illustration of the propeller motor mounting plate.

"FIG. 24 is an illustration of the propeller shaft.

"FIG. 25 is an illustration of the static contacts for slip rings preferably made of tempered spring wire.

"FIG. 26 is a flow-chart diagram of the software embedded in the microprocessor in the monitoring device of the present invention"

For additional information on this patent application, see: Kelly, Vincent M.; Luce, Stephen M.; Codispoti, Louis Anthony. Autonomous Device with Biofouling Control and Method for Monitoring Aquatic Environment. Filed August 16, 2013 and posted June 12, 2014. Patent URL: http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.html&r=6164&p=124&f=G&l=50&d=PG01&S1=20140605.PD.&OS=PD/20140605&RS=PD/20140605

Keywords for this news article include: Patents, Electronics, Microprocessors.

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