Four drone robots were set afloat in the Pacific Ocean last week on a mission to gather data about one of Earth's least charted territories and break distance records of other underwater drones.
The Liquid Robotics "Wave Gliders" set out from San Francisco and will be traveling 33,000 nautical miles across the Pacific to Hawaii. Venture Beat reports that the mission -- the PacX Challenge (Crossing the Pacific) -- is sponsored by Google Earth and Virgin Oceanic and will add data to what little we already know about the ocean:
Liquid Robotics chief of innovative applications Ed Lu said outer space is in some ways easier to explore than the ocean, because it’s predictable, and controllable. The sea is the opposite. And because there’s still so much to learn about the ocean — as little as 5 percent has been explored — getting new data can be tremendously lucrative.
The Wave Glider has been described as the perfect storm of electronics and satellite communication because it can be propelled in perpetuity, harnessing energy from the rise and fall of waves while its solar powered instruments relay data to Iridium satellites.
From above, the Wave Glider looks like a surf board with solar panels. But 22 feet below the surface is where the real action happens. A set of wings swish back and forth to propel the Wave Glider forward, as it rises and falls among the waves.
Here you can see the Wave Glider in action as it flaps its fins to propel itself forward, all the while collecting information using many sensors:
Innovation Daily reports that scientists, students and the general public can follow the Wave Gliders virtually at all times during their 300 day journey. Information collected, according to the Liquid Robotics' website, will be free -- that's about 2.25 million discrete data points worth of free information for scientific use. Data will include features like salinity, water temperature, waves, weather, fluorescence and dissolved oxygen.
"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," said Ocean in Google Earth Manager Jenifer Austin Foulkes on Liquid Robotics' website.
Liquid Robotics is also challenging scientists to see what unique questions such UVAs could help address. Scientists can submit proposals by spring and the winner will receive six months of free Liquid Robotics Wave Glider data services toward their project.
"These Wave Gliders are much like small ‘spacecraft’ that open up new opportunities for robotic exploration," Chief of Innovative Applications at Liquid Robotics Ed Lu said. "I challenge all scientists who are interested in advancing ocean exploration to take advantage of this unique opportunity."