Scientists Create Kayaks That Turn Underwater Data into Music

British scientists have fitted a number of kayaks with sensors which can pick up environmental data and turn it into music for the paddler to enjoy. Known as the Sonic Kayak, it records GPS locations, temperature and underwater noise, which it then turns into a soundtrack for the ride.


The kayaks began life as sonic bikes in the non-profit lab FoAM Kernow, built to play certain sounds based on the location of the rider. But when the co-founder of the lab, geneticist Amber Griffiths, moved to Cornwall, she soon realised bikes were too impractical for the rugged terrain.

Initially, as a joke, Griffiths said she wanted to change them to boats, but the idea soon picked up speed. The boats were going to play sounds through speakers on the deck, based on current location, in the same way as the bikes, but Griffiths decided to take things one step further.

Using her biology background and working closely with the Bicrophonic Research Institute, Griffiths came up with a new concept. Her previous research had looked at adaptations of marine animals to changes in the environment. Drawing inspiration from this and a science project that fitted sensors to surfboard leads, Griffiths added noise and temperature sensors to the kayak.

The Sonic Kayak collects data every second, and while logging this data, an onboard computer converts them into sonifications – the auditory equivalent of data visualisations. Sonification may sound obscure, but you encounter them in your daily life, such as when you hear a clock ticking every second and chiming on the hour.

Griffiths has noted that the ability to collect data and complete other tasks as one of the highlights of the Sonic Kayak. In this instance, it allows scientists to monitor changes in rhythm, tempo, pitch and volume while the hands and eyes can be used for other tasks. Being in a kayak also means that temperature changes can be monitored without compromising safety.

The team behind the Sonic Kayak have also left the design in an open-sourced journal, meaning others can use, improve and adapt the technology to use in research projects of their own. So, if you fancy conducting some experiments for yourself, you can find everything you need to get started here.

Meanwhile, for all your other canoe and kayaking needs, why not check out our selection? With a range of kayak and canoe accessories for sale, as well as the vessels themselves, we are sure you will find something to suit.

Leave a Comment