Ocean STEMulation: Robot Makes Unaided Crossing of Pacific


Focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as they pertain to the ocean.

 

All images courtesy Liquid Robotics.

 

When Papa Mau, the ocean-going robot named for the Polynesian master navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug, coasted into Byron Bay, Australia it completed a 9,000 nautical mile (16,668 km) trip that lasted over a year and took it through gale force storms and other obstacles, setting a record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous ocean robot. This is a resounding demonstration of the viability of this technology for seafaring robots but also for their ability to collect large amounts of incredibly useful data.

A diver with the surfboard-like craft and it's propulsion system tethered in the water column below.

Over long periods of time, various forms of sea life attached to the Wave Glider. A fish takes refuge under the Wave Glider's sub wings.

Last November, four such Wave Gliders, developed by Liquid Robotics, were launched from Monterey Bay in California. Routes were predetermined and programmed for each robot, and Papa Mau has now successfully navigated from California to Hawaii, then to Australia and around the Great Barrier Reef to reach the coast. The others, also named after great ocean explorers, are still en route to either Japan or Australia. They are all equipped with a wide variety of sensors that allow them to collect data throughout the journey on the water’s salinity, temperature, waves, weather, fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen. 

Liquid Robotics is holding a contest that will award $50,000 to the scientist who makes the best use of the openly available data being captured by the Wave Gliders.

The Wave Glider is almost the size of a surfboard and costs about $200,000. It has solar panels on board to power the equipment but its locomotion is powered by wave motion, using an innovative “Sub” that hangs below the “Float” and has wings that create forward thrust as it rides up and down over surface waves, traveling at about 1.5 knots. As the float rises, it pulls the sub with it, causing the wings to fluctuate as well with the wave motion; the motion of the wings in turn propels the glider forward. Watch below to learn more about how the system works.

This model, in a way surprisingly simple, was able to survive incredible obstacles. On one sunny day near the Hawaii pit stop, all four robots survived sudden 100mph winds and 30-foot waves that toppled a nearby sailboat’s mast. One of the Wave Gliders was even bitten by a shark.

Wave Gliders, and other robots like it, are becoming increasingly efficient and effective for use in many types of research from monitoring marine mammals to predicting hurricanes. In addition to the science and research uses, Liquid Robotics also touts their capacity to work for national security and for oil and gas development. They can collect great volumes of data, unhindered by dependence on a power source, and can work more easily in areas that are too remote or dangerous for humans, and this accomplishment is a testament to their great capacity for facilitating such work.

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