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wave glider ocean energy propulsion
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wave glider ocean energy propulsion



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The Wave Gilder is a big float that stays at the surface, moving up and down with the waves, connected by a seven-metre tether to a submerged glider with wings. Photograph: Liquid Robotics

 

Oceans cover three quarters of the earth's surface yet remain mostly unexplored. Vast distances and harsh conditions make manned ocean exploration expensive and often hazardous. So why not get robots to do the job?

"The robot doesn't get sea sick, it doesn't slip on the deck and hurt itself, it doesn't get bored, and it doesn't run out of fuel," says Bill Vass, chief executive at Liquid Robotics, developer of the Wave Glider, an unmanned robotic vessel designed to monitor, observe and measure the world's oceans.

Founded in 2007, with offices in California and Hawaii, the company's technology grew out of efforts to capture the songs of migrating humpback whales. Today, researchers are using the Wave Glider to study ocean ecosystems and habitats. Commercial customers like oil and gas companies use it to survey the ocean floor and detect seepage from undersea wells. And government agencies use it for coastal and border security.

The Wave Glider consists of two parts. A float resembling a big surfboard stays at the surface, moving up and down with the waves. It holds the computers and various marine sensors. It connects by a seven-metre tether to a submerged glider with wings. The up-and-down motion between the float and glider produces energy that propels the craft forward.

Solar panels on the float generate power for computing and navigation and for transmitting data back to shore in real time. The craft's zero footprint is important to customers, especially scientific researchers, says Vass. "Using only renewable energy, we don't damage the environment that we interact with. We are completely silent, have no carbon footprint, and no emissions of any type."

The craft has proven itself durable. About 200 Wave Gliders have been deployed, logging more than 300,000 nautical miles. Not one has been lost at sea, according to the company, even while enduring Category 3 hurricanes and Category 4 cyclones. A typical mission can last from two to six months and average speeds for the craft are two to three knots.

The Wave Glider navigates by autopilot, with its route programmed prior to a mission. But onboard sensors monitor its surroundings so it can find its way around obstacles. Human pilots at Liquid Robotics can also steer the craft and change its route at any time.

Customers have the option to buy or lease the Wave Glider. They can also hire Liquid Robotics to perform the data collection as part of data-as-a-service scheme. The company is growing fast and now has some 120 employees, including Silicon Valley luminaries such as James Gosling, the inventor of the Java programming language, who now serves as the company's chief software architect.

As for the future, Vass notes, "There are a lot of things we can do that alleviate the need for a ship." He estimates that using a ship can be up to 10 times more costly than a Wave Glider for the same mission. "Ships are only getting more expensive," says Vass, "so we see what we are doing as the beginning of a very big market."



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www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/liquid-robotics-global-cleantech-100-case-study

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