February 13, 2011
Touring the offices and workshop of Liquid Robotics left me with a feeling that the future is here. This company has created autonomous, remotely controlled gliders powered by wave and solar energy that can roam the ocean (as directed from the web) for a year or more at a stretch. So neat. Check out this video.
The gliders’ ability to collect biological, physical and chemical oceanographic data is being used by the oil and gas industry to monitor for leaks, facilitated by the fact that each rig has a unique chemical signature. They can also be used, as they were initially intended, to follow and record whales. Dr. Barbara Block from Stanford University was there to talk with us about her new research using these gliders to track acoustically tagged sharks and learn about their behavior and habitat use. Formerly those activities would have required costly manned research vessels or arrays of stationary instruments. Also, it is apparently quite onerous to get the proper permitting to install a buoy (multiple agencies involved), but less so to send out a glider (only requires notice to Coast Guard).
What is most exciting to me is the potential to use gliders for the enforcement of remote marine MPAs by monitoring boats’ activities. Stay tuned for exciting developments when they come down in cost and can be more widely used by the scientific community and for conservation.