Liquid Robotics to Launch Wave Gliders to collect Oceanographic Data
Liquid Robotics, a Silicon Valley startup, makes remote controlled robots that cruise the open ocean and gather data. The company plans to collect this data and offer it up to consumers on the web. The machines, called Wave Gliders, can keep track of all sorts of data including whale songs, wave heights and the presence of nearby ships. The company plans to sell these robots to governments, research institutions and energy companies for between $1,50,000 and $5,00,000 a piece depending on the included components.
The wave glider features a 6-foot, 10-inch-long floating section equipped with solar panels, a battery and sensors. Tethered 23 feet below the float in the water is a similarly sized glider with metal wings and a rudder that propel and steer the device.
The inventor of the device, Robert Hine, originally made the device for a friend who wished to study whale songs off the coast of Hawaii. He started designing and fabricating the machines in 2005, taking every other week off from his job as a semiconductor engineer. He experimented with different Electric Engine designs, but they all failed. After much research, he came up with a design that harnesses the natural energy in waves, like a sailboat harnesses the wind.
The gliders ‘wings’ use the up and down motion of the waves to propel the device forward at a pace of around 1.5 miles per hour. Operators are able to map out a route and have waypoints transmitted to the robot via satellite. It then uses GPS signals to follow the programmed route. The robot is unable to remain still but can criss-cross the same area.
Because the gliders are essentially floating platforms that can be programmed to go anywhere, there are many possible uses. They can measure ocean and air temperature to help predict storms and water currents and wave height for shippers trying to determine the safest route for their vessels. They also can help oceanographers monitor whales and other aquatic life. In crowded areas like the Gulf of Mexico, gliders could collect location, speed and destination information for ships—information that now is sent through radio signals—and display the information on a map. There are less obvious uses as well. Mr. Vass imagines equipping gliders with cellular towers to provide coverage in the middle of oceans. Also, gliders could be programmed to dispense fish food, creating fish farms that move around at sea.
Liquid Robotics isn’t the only company that makes unmanned sea vehicles for data collection. iRobot Corp., creator of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, makes a glider that collects information up to 3,000 feet under water, surfacing from time to time to transmit its findings and collect new instructions. The Slocum glider from Teledyne Technologies Inc. works in a similar way. Both gliders can collect information from far deeper in the ocean than the one from Liquid Robotics, but aren’t able to transmit data continuously.