Drifters have been traditionally used on the study of marine currents in order to better understand local and global circulation patterns. This work describes our work in the design and test of an ocean drifter prototype for measuring environmental parameters. Currently, our drifter prototype is able to transmit its location at regular intervals to a mobile device located at the coastline. The drifter data processing unit was build using an open hardware microcontroller-based board along with off-the-shelf low-cost hardware modules for GPS data acquisition and transmission. A mobile version of Quantum GIS open source software was extended for real time visualization of the drifter location and data logging on a mobile phone.

Besides the use of open hardware and software, the modular design of our drifter allows the addition of sensors using simple serial communication interfaces. Moreover, several drifter can form a mesh network to extend the communication range. The development of the prototype was divided into two phases. The first phase consisted in the design and implementation of the drifter core features using open hardware and software tools. In a second phase, several sensors will be integrated and visualization extended to environmental data. This work focuses on the first phase of development.