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Saildrone Autonomous Drone Completes 28-day Ocean Crossing


July 8, 2021

Saildrone has announced that its uncrewed, autonomous Saildrone Surveyor was expected to arrive in Hawaii after a groundbreaking maiden voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu. While its autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) have performed ocean crossings before, the Surveyor is a new, larger class of vehicle optimized for deep-ocean mapping.

During the 28-day voyage, the Saildrone Surveyor sailed 2,250 nautical miles and mapped 6,400 square nautical miles of seafloor, the company said. Using renewable wind and solar energy for its primary power source, the Surveyor is capable of long-endurance, uncrewed ocean mapping operations. Saildrone said the data it collects can help address issues impacting the world, including climate change, offshore renewable energy, natural resource management, and maritime safety.

The Surveyor measures 72 feet long (22m) and weighs 14 tons, and is equipped with an array of acoustic instruments, normally carried by large, manned survey ships. The drone’s sensors can interrogate a water column looking at underwater ecosystems and map the seafloor in high resolution to a depth of 23,000 feet (7,000m).

Multibeam data from the Surveyor has been calibrated and assessed by an external team from the University of New Hampshire, which normally calibrates large government survey vessels, said Saildrone. “The data quality from the Surveyor is of very high quality, as good as anything we have seen from a ship,” said Larry Mayer, director for the UNH Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (CCOM). “Due to the wind-powered nature of the vehicle, it is very quietly, and this enables the very accurate acoustic measurements needed to map to these depths.”

Saildrone said while the ocean covers more than 70% of the planet, more than 80% remains unmapped and unexplored. The high cost of access to the oceans is one reason ocean exploration is not undertaken. Large ships can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build, and hundreds of thousands of dollars per day to operate, Saildrone said. If the Surveyor can perform the same job as a survey ship but at a fraction of the cost, this would represent a paradigm shift in the cost of ocean access, Saildrone added.

“This successful maiden voyage marks a revolution in our ability to understand our planet,” said Richard Jenkins, founder and CEO of Saildrone. “We have solved the challenge of reliable long-range, large-payload remote maritime operations. Offshore survey can now be accomplished without a large ship and crew; this completely changes operational economics for our customers. Based on this achievement, I am excited to apply Saildrone Surveyor technology to other markets normally reserved for large ships, such as homeland security and defense applications. The implications of a low-carbon solution to these critical maritime missions are significant.”

With the success of its proof-of-concept voyage, Saildrone said it will now build a fleet of Surveyors to be manufactured at U.S. shipyards. It added it intends to map the entire Earth’s oceans in the next 10 years.

Editor’s note: Saildrone is one of the company’s covered in Robotics Data’s report on the maritime and marine robotics market. The report is now on sale for 50% off its regular price through Aug. 31, 2021. Click here for more details and to purchase the report.

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