Four robots begin swim across Pacific Ocean to Japan and Australia

11/19/2011
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Wave Glider underwater Image: Liquid Robotics

TOKTO (majirox news) — Four self-propelled robots left San Francisco on Nov. 17 for a record-setting 60,000-kilometer (33,000 nautical miles) journey across the Pacific Ocean, one pair heading to Japan and the other to Australia. The Wave Gliders, built by Liquid Robotics, will travel together to Hawaii and then spilt up.

It is the longest distance ever tried by an unmanned ocean vessel. The robots will have to brave rough weather and evade big ships on their journey.

According to Liquid Robotics, the aim of the trip is to find new scientific discoveries and increase our understanding of the ocean such as water salinity and temperature, clarity and oxygen content; weather data and gather information on wave features and currents. The information collected during the Wave Gliders’ yearlong journey will be streamed via the Iridium satellite network and transmitted globally. In addition, an enormous amount of data will be provided free of charge to the world’s scientists, educators, students and the general public who register.

“We encourage everyone who has a passion for the ocean to participate in the journey,” the company said on its site.

When they reach their destinations the Wave Gliders will be in the Guinness world record for completing the longest unmanned ocean voyage. Other gliders relied on batteries and needed to be gathered at times for recharging.

The Wave Gliders ride on top of the waves, but draw their energy from fin like structures that descend beneath their hulls. The motion of the waves recharges them, and they draw power entirely from the ocean, making them completely autonomous with no outside source of energy. In theory the gliders could indefinitely ride the waves, drawing their power from the ups and downs of each wave.

The Wave Glider on a boat Image: Liquid Robotics


Of course, some waves are better than others. Waves between two or three meters, those most often encountered at sea, supply the optimum amount of energy. Storms, heavy seas and strong winds are avoided and sailed around. If not possible the systems go into low drive and ride the storm out.

America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, along with research institutes in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands have long used similar sea going robots that were submersible to track sea currents. However, once launched and submerged they would only surface every few weeks to radio back collected data. The Wave Glider, unlike robotic vessels to date, is entirely a surface vessel.

Besides the Wave Gliders, Liquid Robotics sells robots for approximately $200,000 to energy companies who monitor offshore rigs and collect oceanographic data. Its customers include government and research organizations. According to the company, the future for the Wave Gliders will be used to monitor currents in shipping lanes, guard wild fisheries, run offshore fish farms and contribute to the understanding of the ocean’s role in the earth’s carbon cycle.

The Wave Glider launch Image: Liquid Robotics

Some visionary researchers see the gliders as possible forerunners of robotic cargo ships. Since few people would be comfortable with drones flying as cargo planes and thus flying in the same areas as commercial jet liners, robotic cargo ships and fishing boats could be greeted with less resistance and possibly have commercial potential.

Liquid Robotics said they want to show the endurance of the Wave Gliders and inspire everyone’s imagination on the new discoveries and explorations when the ocean is networked with sensors.

“Most of the ocean remains unexplored with less than 10 percent of it mapped out,” said Jenifer Austin Foulkes, Google Earth manager, on the Liquid Robotics’ site. “This expedition creates an opportunity for students, marine researchers, and aspiring oceanographers to follow these brave Liquid Robotics ocean robots as they cross the Pacific virtually through the Ocean Showcase on the Google Earth website. They can also check back daily in Google Earth to see the latest posts from scientists communicating weather and climate data back from these ‘R2D2s’ of the sea.”

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