SeaSearcher drone is set to take the treasure-hunting world by storm
As any frequent viewer of the Discovery Channel will know, the search for sunken treasure typically involves sifting through the sand, just hoping to unearth gold or silver. The SeaSearcher underwater drone, however, may soon point clients right to the booty.
Currently in functioning prototype form, the battery-electric SeaSearcher is being developed by Florida startup Seafarer Exploration. It was designed by engineer Tim Reynolds, CEO of partnering company Wild Manta.
The vehicle's big claim to fame is that it can detect – and differentiate between – various types of metal buried up to 10 meters (33 ft) beneath the seabed, creating and relaying a 3D digital map of their location.
"I've been given the rights to salvage old Spanish and other types of wrecks along the coastline, here in Florida," Seafarer CEO Kyle Kennedy told us. "All these ships used to dock in Havana, they would load up with gold from the New World, and head up the Gulf Stream before heading across the ocean. Storms would sink them, on their routes. There's over a thousand of these shipwrecks, but the problem is, there's never been equipment that would show you where gold and silver was, under the sand."
The exact means by which the SeaSearcher does allegedly show you is a closely guarded trade secret. However, we have been told that the drone can descend to depths of up to 100 m (328 ft), then cruise about 1 m (3 ft) above the seafloor, emitting electromagnetic, RF and acoustic waves of varying modulation formats as it does so. Utilizing machine-learning-based algorithms running in real time, it analyzes the manner in which any buried metal objects are "energized" by those waves. As a result, the vehicle is reportedly able to determine the depth at which those objects are located, along with the type of metal they're made of.
In a field test recently conducted at a Florida wreck site, the SeaSeacher didn't find any gold or silver, but it is claimed to have identified brass, iron, copper, aluminum, lead and stainless steel items.
The geographical location of the detected metals is determined in two ways. First of all, since radio waves don't travel well through the water, the SeaSearcher tows a floating buoy along the surface above itself. The GPS coordinates of that buoy are recorded and transmitted to the crew, aboard a nearby support boat from which the SeaSearcher was launched.
That said, strong currents or rough weather can cause the buoy to end up a fair distance away from the drone – after all, the cable by which it's towed has to contain some slack, meaning it doesn't go straight down to the SeaSearcher. For that reason, a triangulation system developed by the US Navy can also be used. It incorporates a submerged platform which hangs over the side of the support boat, where it sends and receives sonar pings to and from the drone.
The SeaSearcher can be used as an ROV (remotely operated vehicle), an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) that follows a preprogrammed search pattern, or in a towfish setup, wherein it's towed behind a boat.
Since Seafarer doesn't want competitors getting their hands on the technology and figuring out precisely how it works, plans call for the company to instead offer the SeaSearcher and an operator as a service to treasure-hunting clients. Kennedy believes that the service should be available within six months. In the meantime, he hopes to raise funds by using the drone to discover some sunken treasure of his own.
"The world doesn't believe that this device works, right now," he said. "As soon as we prove that it works on treasure, we'll do some white papers and independent tests and all that good stuff. But right now, all I need it to do is show me some massive amounts of gold and silver, and then I don't really care what the world thinks."
You can see the SeaSearcher in action, in the following video.
Company website: Seafarer Exploration