Seven unmanned robots were released into the open ocean off Southwest England, on a three-week mission to collect data on the ocean and marine life. Some of the vehicles are battery-powered submarine gliders, while others float on the surface of the water and are powered by wind, solar and wave power (with conventional power supplies available if necessary).
Scientists will communicate with the vehicles via satellite, as they travel more than 300 miles with a wide variety of tools for observing fish, seabirds, dolphins, and sharks. Basic weather data will be gathered, as well as information on the density of the plankton in the water. The robots will also listen for dolphis and porpoises, and take pictures of seabirds. Scientists at the National Oceanography Centre will use the data to map the distribution of fauna across physical boundaries in the ocean, called fronts, which the robots will be crossing.
“Each vehicle travels at a different speed and depth, has its own range of sensors, and requires its own pilot to keep watch on its position and activity. Co-ordinating this fleet to achieve the science objected is a challenging task, and will teach us a lot about running this sort of operation,” Maaten Furlong, who is coordinating several of the robots, said in a press release. “Understanding how to run this type of campaign is essential as our aim in the long term is to routinely deploy fleets of robots to tackle ocean research problems.”
At the end of the first phase of the project, two of the vehicles will be released again – this time off the coast of Plymouth – to track fish wearing acoustic tags and learn more about how these creatures use marine protected areas.