Unmanned subs begin record-breaking journey

Posted by Kate Taylor

Over the weekend, four robot vehicles set out to cross the Pacific, on the longest journey ever attempted by an unmanned ocean vehicle.

The four Wave Glider craft, built by Liquid Robotics, will collect and transmit vast amounts of scientific data, and will also allow the public to follow the journey on Google Earth. Through a collaboration  with Virgin Oceanic, the team will also explore the Mariana Trench.

"Most of the ocean remains unexplored with less than 10 percent of it mapped out. This expedition creates an opportunity for students, marine researchers, and aspiring oceanographers to follow these brave Liquid Robotics ocean robots as they cross the Pacific virtually through the Ocean Showcase on the Google Earth website," says Jenifer Austin Foulkes, Ocean in Google Earth manager.

"They can also check back daily in Google Earth to see the latest posts from scientists communicating weather and climate data back from these 'R2D2s' of the sea."

The four Wave Gliders are expected to take more than 300 days to complete their voyage, collecting data on salinity, water temperature, waves, weather, fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen. This data will be made available to the public, free of charge and in real time.

The 33,000 nautical mile journey will mean negotiating some of the world’s most challenging environments, says the team. The Wave Gliders are starting off by traveling together to Hawaii, after whichn they will split into pairs - one to Australia, and the other  to Japan, over the Mariana Trench, where Virgin Oceanic will complete the first of its Five Deep Dives.

"At Virgin Oceanic, our mission is taking the next step in human exploration to the last frontier – the very bottom of our seas. I will be piloting to the bottom of the Mariana Trench to explore the deepest point of the Pacific Ocean," says Chris Welsh, Virgin Oceanic co-founder and pilot.

"Wave Gliders are one of the most promising solutions for major, low cost, long-range ocean exploration. I look forward to seeing the results as their Wave Gliders cross over the Mariana Trench, which is our first major dive location."