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April 08, 2013

Silent Running: Robotic Marine Vehicle is Sun- and Wave-Powered



A Sunnyvale, California-based company has invented an unmanned, unsinkable, acoustically silent, self-propelled, data-collecting robotic vehicle that we think of as a kind of “ocean-bound drone”—without the missile-power, of course.

Liquid Robotics has just launched the proprietary Wave Glider SV3—a 9.5-foot by 2-foot marine scouting mobile platform covered by solar panels that uses two forms of alternative energy—both wave energy and stored solar energy—for forward propulsion. It can travel tens of thousands of miles, collect data under the most demanding conditions (doldrums, high currents, hurricanes/cyclones); and deliver the answers, instead of just the data, in real-time to scientists around the globe and around the clock.

The vessel can travel the world’s oceans for months to years at a time. In fact, last December, an earlier version—the Wave Glider SV2, introduced in 2009—completed a 9,000 nautical mile cross-Pacific scientific journey to set a new world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle.

Throughout its journey, the SV2, navigated along a prescribed route under autonomous control— collecting and transmitting unprecedented amounts of high-resolution ocean data never before available over these vast distances or timeframes.  It weathered gale force storms, fended off sharks, spent more than 365 days at sea, skirted around the Great Barrier Reef, and finally battled and surfed the East Australian Current (EAC) to reach its final destination in Hervey Bay near Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. 

Liquid Robotics’ new SV3 offers additional technological advancements—including the datacenter@sea—adaptable power and storage providing support for power hungry sensors and the introduction of a new, adaptable operating system designed for intelligent autonomy for fleet operations.

 “The SV3 is a tremendous step forward in terms of what we can accomplish in the ocean and gives customers a competitive advantage to capture data in the most challenging ocean conditions,” said Bill Vass, CEO, Liquid Robotics. “By providing the ability to deploy Wave Gliders across most of the planet and deliver ocean data in a new and cost-effective way, we’re enabling broad access to affordable ocean exploration.”

 “The SV3 enables unparalleled, pervasive collection of data and processing of data,” said Roger Hine, CTO and inventor of the Wave Glider. “Riding the advancements in consumer electronics, smart phone, tablet computing and a new generation of extremely capable processors, we are now able to provide processing onboard—actually as powerful as a supercomputer from not long ago. With that computational power and the ability to tirelessly swim across vast oceans, the Wave Glider SV3 represents a big step forward in the state-of-the-art of unmanned monitoring and exploration.”

Speaking of Drones …

And as it turns out, we were not totally off-base in our reference to drones: The company offers a SHARC variant of the Wave Glider, which is designed as a versatile platform hosting an array of sensors and devices, ideal for a wide range of National Security and Defense applications. Acoustically silent and with a low visual and radar signature, SHARC harvests all of its energy for propulsion mechanically from the ocean waves. Power for onboard computing, sensors, and communications devices is provided by solar energy.

SHARCs can operate autonomously or be controlled by an operator located anywhere in the world, connected securely via satellite and a browser interface for real-time 24/7 access to data. Operating individually, SHARC can provide access to remote areas to gather data, perform surveillance, or act as a communications gateway to existing subsea devices. With no energy restrictions, missions can last for months or up to a year of mobile operations or station keeping.

The Wave Glider SV3 (left) and the SHARC (right), courtesy of Liquid Robotics.

As part of a deployment of marine assets, or operating as a “swarm,” SHARCs can provide broader cooperative underwater sensor capabilities and other functions at dramatic cost savings.

The company is attracting widespread notice. On March 19, Liquid Robotics closed a $45 million Series E funding round led by Riverwood Capital, a growth-focused technology private equity firm, with participation from existing investors, including VantagePoint Capital Partners. The funding will be used to expand the company “to meet the increasing demand for its ocean observation & monitoring services.” This investment will also fund development and delivery of new cost effective solutions for the worldwide defense, science and research, and oil and gas markets.


Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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