Last November, a fleet of four small autonomous Wave Glider aquatic robots set out from San Francisco to sail across the Pacific ocean. They reached Hawaii this March, at which point they parted ways – as according to plan, one pair struck out for Japan, while the other two headed for Australia. Today, it was announced that the first of the two Australia-bound Wave Gliders has reached its destination, setting a new world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle.
Made by California- and Hawaii-based tech firm Liquid Robotics, each Wave Glider consists of a floating surf board-like “boat” tethered to an underwater winged platform. The motion of the waves causes these wings to paddle the boat forward, while solar cells on the deck of the boat provide power to its sensors and transmitters.
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These sensors measure oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, wave characteristics, weather conditions, water fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen. GPS and a heading sensor also help the craft to orient themselves.
Papa Mau, which is the name of the Wave Glider that has reached Australia, was pulled from the ocean in Hervey Bay near Bundaberg, Queensland. It was the end of a one-year journey that spanned approximately 9,000 nautical miles (16,668 kilometers), and that saw the robot withstanding challenges such as gale force winds and inquisitive sharks. Along the way, it also gathered and transmitted an assortment of oceanographic data, including measurements of a chlorophyll bloom along the Equatorial Pacific.
Papa Mau’s traveling companion, the Benjamin, should be arriving in Australia early next year. One of the pair headed for Japan has apparently turned back to Hawaii for repairs, after which it should be resuming its trip.
The four robots’ combined journey, known as PacX (Pacific Crossing) is intended mainly to showcase the Wave Gliders’ research, reconnaissance, and other capabilities. More information on the project, and on Papa Mau’s accomplishment, can be seen in the video below.