Conducting scientific research in the ocean's surf zone can be challenging, as conventional watercraft get tossed all over the place. Well, what about using a remote-control tracked vehicle that crawls along the bottom? That's just what the Surf Rover is planned to be.

William Dally, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of North Florida, first got the idea decades ago. He was a student at the time, and was tasked with placing a series of data-gathering metal rods in the surf zone – he got bashed around a lot as he was doing it. Now, years later, he's got a National Science Foundation grant to build an unmanned vehicle that could do such jobs.

Dally and his team of students have already built a quarter-scale model, designed to take on challenges such as soft sand, steep slopes, high waves and strong currents. Now, they're looking towards creating the real thing, which should hopefully be complete and ready for testing sometime next year.

Plans call for the full-scale Surf Rover to weigh over 3,000 lb (1,361 kg) and be 16 feet wide by 22 feet long (4.9 by 6.7 m), although its folding design will allow it to be transported on a modified boat trailer.

It will be built mainly out of aluminum and stainless steel, and will be powered by a diesel engine equipped with a long snorkel – according to Dally, power tethers are too limiting, and onboard batteries are too heavy plus they don't last long enough. The team is currently working on ways of reducing drag on the snorkel, and keeping the engine cool until it enters the water.

"Its primary job will be near-shore surveying, determining how the beach changes during storms and what happens to the sand eroded from the beach," says Dally. "But there may also be a demand in the hydrographic surveying industry, which no longer uses swimmers to go out in the water or boats to come close to shore due to recent accidents … It's amazing to me that we have vehicles roving surfaces out in space, but we have nothing to help us routinely collect data and make observations in the surf zone on Earth."

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