Santa Cruz Tech Beat


The Autonomous Saildrone Surveyor Preps for Its Sea Voyage

By Eric Niiler

January 23, 2021 — SF Bay Area, CA

(Photo above: The autonomous research vessel known as the Saildrone Surveyor is steered remotely from shore. Source: Saildrone)

[Editor’s note: You might also want to read TechCrunch’s article about Saledrone’s launch. And, here is some history, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) connection to Saildrone.]

The robo-vessel will map the ocean floor, and its solar-powered sensors will sample fish DNA and collect climate data. DNA sample collection uses sensors developed at the University of New Hampshire and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)

If you happen to be crossing the San Francisco Bay or Golden Gate bridges this week, look for a massive surfboard with a red sail on top cruising slowly across the water. Don’t flinch if you don’t see anyone on board. It’s actually an autonomous research vessel known as the Saildrone Surveyor and it’s being steered remotely from shore.

The 72-foot-long vessel is launching this week into the bay from its dock at a former naval base in Alameda, California. It is designed to spend months at sea mapping the seafloor with powerful sonar devices, while simultaneously scanning the ocean surface for genetic material to identify fish and other marine organisms swimming below.

The carbon-fiber composite and stainless steel-hulled vessel will navigate by itself, following a preprogrammed route to collect and transmit oceanographic data back to Saildrone headquarters via satellite link. The data will then become available to government and academic scientists studying the ocean. In time, its designers say, they hope that solar-powered Surveyor might replace existing oceanographic research ships that are far more expensive to operate and leave a substantial carbon footprint.

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