Whale Target

Researchers studying whales will often put large satellite tags onto the whale's backs. The current method involves the researchers approaching the whale on a boat and using a long rod to slap the tag on.
As you might expect, this system is dangerous for the scientists and disruptive to the whales. The Olin Robotics Lab is working to use drones to autonomously land on the whale and press the tag onto their skin instead.
To test the system, I built a life-size target of the top of the whale which breaches the surface and is most commonly targeted. At 20 ft long, it is an eighth of an adult blue whale.


The 3D rendering of the whale was imported into Solidworks and used for measurements and proportions.

The final CAD of the whale target included 11 ribs supported by a spine and two side battens.

All of the ribs were cut using a sabre saw from MDF. The spine was divided into three parts that were fit together with matching pockets, cut using a Shopbot.

The StyroSpray 1000 hardener was tested on fabric stretched across a piece of wood. The result was suitably rigid.

Fabric was stretched and stapled between each set of ribs, and StyroSpray was painted onto the fabric's surface.

The fabric began to sag under the weight of the Styrospray. Webbing was woven between the ribs, while the ribs themselves were braced against each other with wood and metal brackets.

The scale of the whale target is enormous compared to the small drone.

Mixing the two parts of the StyroSpray can create awesome designs, especially with a little bit of color correction.

The battens were mounted along the side of the ribs and had to be cut part way through because the curvature was too tight.

One coat of StyroSpray covers the whale's body.

Painting in action!

A successful drone landing!

The whale was placed outside, waiting to weather a New England winter.