New Marine Robots Could One Day Patrol the Oceans

How do you keep an eye on the oceans? With robots

Jason Edwards/National Geographic Society/Corbis

Soon surveillance technology—increasingly ubiquitous on land—will take to a new frontier: the high seas. 

Earlier this week, Boeing signed an agreement with company Liquid Robotics to develop ocean-monitoring robots. Liquid Robotics has already developed an unmanned robot called the Wave Glider, powered by the sun and waves, that can stay in the water (and on patrol) 24/7/365—even in hurricanes.  

CNET reports that the technology could be used by government agencies to keep an eye on large areas of the ocean, watching for foreign submarines or illegal activities like drug smuggling or non-permitted fishing. From CNET

Gysin explained that Wave Gliders would likely be put to sea in fleets of hundreds or thousands, together acoustically sensing both below and on the surface, and transmitting what they find to Boeing aircraft or other vessels. Surveillance aircraft and ships "are expensive, and patrolling is like looking for needles in a haystack," said Gysin. "If you have fleets of Wave Gliders, doing the mundane [sea scanning], we can transmit [what they find] to the more valuable assets, and they can go interdict."

Having the ability to monitor vast swaths of ocean is increasingly important to the U.S. government. Today, the White House officially announced the enlargement of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which will protect 490,000 square miles of the Pacific from commercial fishing, dumping, and energy exploration. Protecting marine areas, though, is a much more effective policy if that area is patrolled. Keeping watch is a simple idea but one that's hard to pull off. And robots may do a much better job at it than humans could alone.

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