Skip to content

Smart Underwater Connector

Smart Underwater Connector

Adding new instruments to an oceanographic mooring or underwater observatory can be a difficult and time-consuming process. Each instrument has to be custom programmed to communicate with a host computer or observatory network. To simplify this process, MBARI engineers developed a communication protocol called PUCK, which allows a host computer to recognize an instrument and begin accepting data from it immediately, in much the same way that a personal computer recognizes when a camera or other device is attached to one of its USB ports. In early 2012, the PUCK team was rewarded for its efforts when an international standards organization known as the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) approved the PUCK protocol as a new standard.

The acceptance of PUCK did not happen overnight. In fact, MBARI engineers began working on this problem more than a decade ago. Along the way, they overcame many engineering challenges. But they also went out of their way to involve other researchers and with commercial companies that build oceanographic instruments. As MBARI’s Platforms Engineering Group Lead, Kent Headley said, “Working with our collaborators, we put a lot of thought and effort into figuring out how to build a community around the standard, to amplify the impact the PUCK technology can have on the ocean-science community.”

OGC PUCK is a simple standard command protocol that helps to automate instrument installation, configuration, and operation and data processing by physically storing information about the instrument with the device itself. The stored information includes a standard instrument datasheet and optional PUCK payload. The payload can be an instrument description (metadata), driver code, or any other information deemed relevant by the observing system. When a PUCK-enabled instrument is connected to a host computer the host can retrieve the information from the instrument through PUCK protocol and deal with the information appropriately. The host can use retrieved instrument metadata to automatically parse and process data into a standard format. In addition, the host may install and execute instrument driver code that has been retrieved from the instrument. We refer to this automated process as plug-and-work. PUCK was originally developed by MBARI and is now an official standard of the Open Geospatial Consortium’s Sensor Web Enablement framework. The protocol is defined for instruments having an RS-232 or Ethernet interface.

Additional Information

The OGC PUCK Reference Design Kit (PRDK) offers software and documentation to assist PUCK users and developers in creating software applications that use PUCK-enabled devices or in implementing PUCK protocol in an instrument.

The PRDK includes source code and binaries to implement, write, read, and test RS-232 PUCK enabled devices. It also includes complete documentation needed to assemble a reference implementation of an external RS-232 PUCK device, including test cables and firmware. The PRDK is compliant with PUCK v1.3 and higher, including OGC PUCK v1.4

The PRDK does not yet include IP PUCK, but you can download a description of a prototype IP PUCK implementation.

The PRDK is designed to work on Windows+Cygwin and Linux PCs.

Contents include: PUCK:license:releaseNotes.txt

  • PUCK Protocol Verification tool
    • Verify device compliance with PUCK protocol
  • Utilities for reading and writing PUCK content
  • PUCK Protocol Firmware Implementations
    • Console PUCK simulator
    • MSP430 firmware (for use with reference design hardware)
  • External PUCK Hardware Reference Design
    • Schematics, BOM and Layout Documentation
  • Source code for firmware and utilities
  • Links to open-source development tools



OGC PUCK Reference Design Kit (gzip archive)

Release Notes

OGC PUCK Reference Design Kit (oct21_2009)

OGC PUCK Information Sheet (PDF format) (28nov2012)

The Smart Ocean Sensors Consortium (SOSC) was established in February of 2009. SOSC is a group of manufacturers and users dedicated to improving the reliability, utility, and cost-effectiveness of hydrographic sensor networks through the adoption, development, and promotion of appropriate standard interfaces and protocols, including OGC PUCK.

PUCK was adopted as an official standard of the Open Geospatial Consortium’s Sensor Web Enablement framework in December 2011. OGC PUCK defines the protocol for Ethernet/IP as well as RS-232 interfaces.

A discussion group has formed to build community consensus on plug-and-work standards for ocean observatories and other sensor networks. If you wish to join the discussion, please contact Doug Au. Members may join the discussion at

These instrument users are interested in the plug-and-work strategy for oceanographic instrumentation and are participants in the plug-and-work discussion:

  • Matthew Arrott, LOOKING
  • Jim Bellingham, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Eddie Bernard, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
  • Paul Bissett, Florida Environmental Research Institute
  • William Boicourt, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
  • Colin Bradley, University of Victoria
  • Kenneth Brink, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Dave Butterfield, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
  • Dale Chayes,Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
  • Russ Davis, University of California, San Diego
  • Sharon Debra, Florida Environmental Research Institute
  • Tommy Dickey, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Duane Edgington, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • Dan Fornari, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Kent Headley, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • Mike Hemsley, Ocean.US
  • Matt Howard, Texas A & M University
  • Rick Jahnke, ORION
  • Evamaria Koch, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
  • Zbignew Kolber, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • Michael Lampel, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Roger Lukas, University of Hawaii
  • Tom Malone, Ocean.US
  • Gene Massion, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • Tim McGinnis, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington
  • Chris Meinig, NOAA
  • Mark Moline, California Polytechnic State University, SLO
  • Tom O’Reilly, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • John Orcutt, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Terry Paluszkiewicz, Office of Naval Research
  • Neal Pettigrew, University of Maine
  • Keith Raybould, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • Mike Risi, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • Val Schmidt, University of New Hampshire
  • Robert Spindel, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington
  • Oscar Schofield, Rutgers University
  • Mario Tamburri, Alliance for Coastal Technologies
  • Frank Vernon, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Manufacturers on Discussion List

These instrument manufacturers are interested in plug-and-work oceanographic instrumentation and participating in the discussion:

  • Access Technology
  • Agilent
  • Applied Microsystems, Inc.
  • ASL Environmental Sciences, Inc.
  • GEOSense
  • H.H. Bauer and Associates, Inc.
  • Hobi Labs
  • In-situ, Inc.
  • L-3 MariPro
  • Nortek USA
  • Ocean Innovations
  • Onset
  • Raytheon
  • RBR
  • RD Instruments
  • RGL Consulting, Ltd.
  • Rockland Oceanographic Services, Inc.
  • Sea-Bird Electronics, Inc.
  • SiS Sensoren Instrumente Systeme GmbH
  • Teledyne Technologies
  • WetLabs
  • WetSat
  • YSI Environmental

Several manufacturers have embedded OGC PUCK protocol in their commercial instrument’s firmware. Manufacturers find that the simple PUCK protocol is straightforward to implement. Note that PUCK is a software command protocol, and requires no mechanical or electrical changes to existing RS-232 or Ethernet connectors whatsoever. Manufacturers that currently implement PUCK protocol include Seabird ElectronicsRBR Ltd.WETLabs, and Nortek.

In cases where PUCK cannot be embedded (e.g. in an old instrument), an “external” PUCK device can be attached to the instrument’s serial port, enabling PUCK functionality in any RS-232 or Ethernet instrument.  MBARI’s prototype external PUCK includes two serial ports, FLASH memory, a switch, and microprocessor to interpret and execute PUCK protocol commands specified by a host. First, the PUCK is physically connected to the instrument’s serial port. Now the PUCK-enabled instrument can be plugged into a host computer, using the PUCK’s other serial port. Manufacturers who wish to implement a commercial version of the external PUCK can find implementation details in the PUCK Reference Design Kit.


Each manufacturer that implements the MBARI PUCK is assigned a unique manufacturer identification code that can be retrieved from the instrument PUCK data sheet (see the PUCK specification for details). The current code assignments are as follows:

ManufacturerDecimal Code
WET Labs258
Sea-Bird Electronics256
RBR Ltd.004

The Smart Ocean Sensor Consortium (SOSC) is a group of manufacturers and users dedicated to improving the reliability, utility and cost-effectiveness of hydrographic sensor networks through the adoption, development, and promotion of appropriate standard interfaces and protocols. In particular, the SOSC supports the new Open Geospatial Consortium PUCK Protocol standard.

Related News

Sorry, no results were found.