6 December 2012

Marine robot breaks distance record

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An unmanned marine robot has completed the longest journey of an autonomous vehicle, travelling 16,668km (9,000 nautical miles) across the Pacific Ocean to collect and transmit scientific data.
Wave Glider Papa Mau autonomous vehicle

Wave Glider from below showing the self-propulsion system that enabled it to travel a record-breaking 9,000 nautical miles to collect ocean data. Credit: Liquid Robotics

SYDNEY: An unmanned marine robot has completed the longest journey of an autonomous vehicle, travelling 16,668km (9,000 nautical miles) across the Pacific Ocean to collect and transmit scientific data.

‘Papa Mau’ arrived in Hervey Bay in Queensland, Australia on December 6 and was one of four unmanned ‘Wave Gliders’ sent by U.S.-based data services company Liquid Robotics on a year-long voyage across the Pacific Ocean. The project, sponsored by Google Earth and Virgin Oceanic, was called ‘PacX’ and aimed at collecting data on ocean salinity, water temperature, waves, weather, fluorescence and dissolved oxygen.

The Wave Glider, developed by Liquid Robotics, is an autonomous marine robot consisting of two parts, a ‘float’ on the surface of the water and an attached ‘sub’ seven metres below. When a wave lifts the float, it pulls up the sub with it, which has ‘wings’ that are subsequently pressed down, enabling forward motion. The Wave Glider is equipped with GPS and computers for navigation, as well as ocean sensors to monitor and measure the surrounding environment.

Competition to use data creatively

The project includes a competition called the ‘PacX Challenge’, which encourages scientists and students to use the collected data in “interesting, productive and innovative ways,” according to a Liquid Robotics statement. Five finalists have been selected from research abstracts and will now compete for a $50,000 research grant from oil company British Petroleum.

“These scientists will conduct research into some of the world’s most challenging ocean issues ranging from measuring the ocean’s health and respiration to studying the ocean’s biomass – the most fundamental organisms critical to ocean life,” said Luke Beatmen, an oceanographer at Liquid Robotics and chairman of the PacX science board.

Papa Mau spent more than 365 days at sea, weathering storms and shark attacks, skirting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef before arriving in Hervey Bay. During the journey, it monitored almost 2,000km of chlorophyll bloom near the equator, validating existing satellite data.

“A significant achievement”

“The first Pacific crossing by the marine robot Papa Mau is a significant achievement,” commented computer scientist and engineer, Arcot Sowmya, from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, who wasn’t involved with the project.

“The real-time gathering and transmission of ocean and weather data over that stretch has also tested information and communication technology and expertise, and is likely to contribute to marine and climate science in the future,” she said.

The second Wave Glider headed for Australia, ‘Benjamin’, is expected to arrive in early 2013, while the other two are on their way to Japan.

The recovery of Papa Mau in Hervey Bay, near Bundaberg, Australia. Credit: Liquid Robotics

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