This Autonomous Ship By Saildrone Is Mapping The Sea Floor

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While ocean crossings are nothing new for Saildrone’s self-sufficient surface vehicles, the Saildrone Surveyor is a new, much larger class of vehicles optimized for deep-ocean mapping. It successfully proved its mapping capabilities across a maiden voyage between San Francisco and Hawaii. During the 28-day voyage, the Saildrone Surveyor sailed 2,250 nautical miles and mapped 6,400 square nautical miles of the seafloor, which would be a lot of terrains for humans to cover otherwise.

Using renewable wind and solar energy as its primary power source, the Saildrone Surveyor is the only vehicle in the world capable of long-endurance, uncrewed ocean mapping operations. The valuable data it collects will help address issues impacting our world, including climate change, offshore renewable energy, natural resource management, and maritime safety.

Measuring 72 feet long (22 m), the Saildrone Surveyor holds a sophisticated range of instruments, normally carried by large, human-crewed survey ships. The Surveyor’s sensors examine the water looking at underwater ecosystems, and map the seafloor in high resolution to a depth of 23,000 feet (7,000 m).

The company has been performing sea trials of the Saildrone Surveyor in the San Francisco Bay area and launched a mission to send a small fleet into hurricane territory to examine the extreme weather events directly. Then around a month ago, the self-sufficient vehicle set off for its first voyage in the open ocean.

“The data quality from the Surveyor is of very high quality, as good as anything we have seen from a ship. Due to the wind-powered nature of the vehicle, it is very quiet, and this enables the very accurate acoustic measurements needed to map to these depths,” said Larry Mayer from the University of New Hampshire.

The ocean covers more than 70% of the planet, but over 80% remains unexplored. The lack of ocean exploration is mainly due to the high cost undertaken by large ships. The Saildrone Surveyor represents a paradigm shift in performing the same job as a survey ship, but at a low cost.

Saildrone, Inc. of California will now build a fleet of Surveyors to be manufactured at US shipyards with this successful maiden voyage. Saildrone intends to map the entire earth’s oceans in the next 10 years.

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