By Fiona Blackwood
They’re unmanned vehicles of the sea, and they’re heading out on their first solo voyage.
The CSIRO has three sail drones under its command and plans to use them to collect scientific information from the surface of the ocean.
CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said the data gathered by the drones could be a game changer.
“Those insights could also address other global challenges,” Dr Marshall said.
“Like saving the Great Barrier Reef, like predicting the next El Nino event before it happens.”
The wind and solar-powered “sailing bots” need no supplies, no fuel and will go anywhere.
“It’s a game changer for safety because it gets our people out of harms way,” Dr Marshall said.
“It will give us a much bigger data set and we can move people from gathering data [to] the insights that come from that data.”
iPhone controls sailing drones
Saildrone Founder Richard Jenkins said the drones were controlled with a smartphone.
“We don’t have a control centre, we have an iPhone, we have a web app that controls the drone and tells it where to go,” he said.
He said the drones were not a shipping hazard
“We can see all the other ships around it remotely via satellite. The vehicle decides on board what is a threat and not a threat,” he said.
Two of the sail drones have headed to the Gippsland Basin off Victoria, while the other one will brave the Southern Ocean.
“The big breaking waves are definitely a threat to the vehicles,” Mr Jenkins said.
“It’s a new territory for us, we’ll have to see how they handle it, and if it’s a problem we’ll have to redesign it to solve that problem.”
Saildrone Founder Richard Jenkins says the bots are controlled by smartphone. (ABC News: Janek Frankowski)
The sailing bots were equipped with sensors which record ocean chemistry, temperature, salinity and marine life.
That data would be fed into models which monitor climate change, as well as investigations into future carbon capture storage sites.
“We’re pretty convinced we can capture the carbon and we can trap it,” Dr Marshall said.
“But the big question we’re trying to answer is how long will it stay trapped, because we don’t want it to leak out and the sail drones have the ability to continually monitor sites.”
CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Bronte Tilbrook said the drones had other applications.
“If there’s an example of a pollution event we can send the sail drones out to those regions and monitor in a much more thorough way than we could before,” she said.
The three sail drones could be at sea for up to 12 months before returning to Hobart.