As NASA prepares to launch the Curiosity rover to explore Mars at the end of the month, a small fleet of Wave Gliders, autonomous sea-faring vehicles, have set sail on an equally audacious journey — swimming unassisted across of the Pacific Ocean.
The fleet of four Wave Gliders was built by Liquid Robotics. They departed San Francisco on Thursday for the first leg of their trip across the Pacific, dubbed the PacX project, and will travel as a group to Hawaii. From there, the Gliders will pair off — one set travelling to Japan, the other to Australia. In total, the Gliders will traverse roughly 60,000km of open ocean while collecting and streaming data to Google Earth's Ocean Showcase.
Each of the four autonomous vehicles consists of a floating platform attached to a subsurface winged platform. It moves by constantly adjusting its buoyancy, employing the motion of waves to drive the underwater fins and propelling the Glider while a GPS link provides navigation. Its surface is covered in solar cells, which powers the vehicles suite of sensors and transmitters. During its journey, the Gliders will constantly collect data including salinity, water temperature, wave characteristics, weather, water fluorescence and dissolved oxygen.
All of this data will be streamed via a satellite uplink to the Ocean Showcase. Basic readings will be available to the public while researchers who have submitted research abstracts will be granted access to the entirety of the data set. The top five abstracts, as judged by Liquid Robots, will receive use of the $US200,000 robots for six months of research — assuming they complete their journey.
Graham Hine, senior vice president of operations at Liquid Robotics, is confident in the devices' abilities. They're designed to "push the boundaries of science, and prove to the world that this type of technology is ready to increase our understanding of the ocean." And given that we generally have a better understanding of the Red Planet than we do about the two-thirds of our world that are covered in salt water, this technology could be a boon to oceanography. And while I doubt they'll be a suitable replacement for hands-on research, they could provide an invaluable tool for generating a steady stream of environmental data, much like networks of weather stations do on land. [IEEE via Gizmag]