Bath tech firm charts a course for young brothers’ epic Antarctic science project

June 23, 2022

Bath-based wireless technology firm Icoteq is supporting two brothers aged 10 and 12 in a pioneering 20,000km voyage to send two replica ships to circumnavigate Antarctica.

Icoteq, which previously developed a new generation of satellite tracking equipment aimed at sea turtles and a plastic pollution tracker for a National Geographic-backed expedition – has designed tracking and monitoring devices for the vessels, in what is thought to be the first venture of its kind. 

The technology will report back, via satellite, the location of each boat throughout the journey with sensor data measuring sea temperature and ocean pH – both of which can be used as markers for climate change.

Images from an integrated camera will also be sent once a month.

The metre-long scaled wooden replicas of 19th century warships HMS Erebus, and HMS Terror will drift through the Southern Ocean following the circumpolar current around the coastline of Antarctica in an expedition known as Project Erebus.

The vessels are due to leave for South Georgia in the Southern Atlantic, where they will be handed over to the territory’s government and taken on board a fisheries patrol vessel. They will then be launched 160 kms north into the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which flows clockwise from west to east around Antarctica.

Icoteq managing director Craig Rackstraw, who founded the business in 2013, said: “We were contacted by Ollie and Harry’s father MacNeill Ferguson to ask if we could advise him on the best tracker to buy online to fit to the boats,” said. “We were so inspired by his sons’ mission, we offered to build the technology for them. 

“We developed a custom tracking and data monitoring device that incorporates a GPS receiver, air and ocean temperature probes, a pH probe to measure ocean acidity and a forward-facing camera.”

Position and scientific data will be sent back to the firm using an ARGOS satellite communication link.

Craig said he hoped the boys would provide inspiration to other children and families.

“They’re both extremely hands-on and have worked hard to make this happen,” he added.

“They built the boats as far as possible by themselves – and where they have had to get professional help, it’s all been given for free.”

If successful, the voyage could show that low-cost sensors can be a viable way to help monitor climate change.

“This is currently done using expensive complex equipment. If low-cost sensors combined with citizen science, can contribute to the gathering of important scientific data, it could open the doorway for larger scale monitoring at a fraction of the price,” said Craig.

Harry, 10, said: “It’s like a mission to Mars. We cannot rescue the boats once they are launched so we have to plan every detail.”

Project Erebus is the latest adventure for Harry and Ollie from Aberdeenshire. They previously set the world record for the longest distance travelled at sea by a toy boat with their Playmobil pirate ship ‘Adventure’, which sailed more than 6,000km to the Caribbean.

The brothers, who have drawn up a list of 500 adventures, then went on to smash their own world record last year with a second toy ship which managed to sail more than 15,000km through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Icoteq’s website will feature a dedicated Erebus page with a map tracking the boats along with the monthly camera image sent via satellite.

Pictured, top. Harry Ferguson, left, and brother Ollie with their boats ahead of the 20,000km voyage. Above, Icoteq managing director Craig Rackstraw shows Harry the procedure for controlling the tracking device

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