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Swimming robots could enlist for Coast Guard duties

Sea-going Wave Glider robots have proved a valuable tool for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, exploring the Arctic Ocean, and braving and surviving Hurricane Sandy while gathering valuable insight about storms.

And they have gotten a serious technology upgrade with the new SV3 models becoming a floating server rack at sea, one that can remain on station or move around by riding the waves without the need for fuel or human intervention.

Now it seems the rugged little robots may soon be enlisting. Where would such a robotic seadog go? To the Coast Guard, of course. On July 31, the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing on "How to Improve the Efficiency, Safety and Security of Maritime Transportation: Better Use and Integration of Maritime Domain Awareness Data." A surprise star of the event was the Liquid Robotics Wave Gliders, which, according to experts, would be a perfect addition to the Coast Guard fleet.

Chairman of the committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), seemed quite impressed with a report from Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mark Butt, who experimented with Wave Glider robots. "They’re extremely inexpensive, they have cameras on them. They...can see oil sheen or any other kind of spill on the water," Hunter said. "They can test the water, they can test weather, and they can do a lot of different things. And it takes no people whatsoever to do this. You can literally have a thousand of them on the ocean at a time, or ten thousand, however many you may think you need."

Wave Gliders, as their name suggests, travel by riding the waves, require no fuel other than a solar panel for rudder movement, and have proved able to handle harsh conditions. They explored the Arctic Ocean for a month, mapping out salinity and ice flow patterns in an area that would have normally required special ships and crews. They rode through Hurricane Sandy off the coast of New York and have survived many storms in the Gulf of Mexico. Five of them even crossed the Pacific Ocean without human intervention, though one had its navigation cables taken out by a shark.

But despite these amazing tales of robot survival, their best uses probably are going to be in normal day-to-day roles such as watching over shipping in our nation's harbors, monitoring weather patterns out at sea or keeping an eye on drilling sites and seaborne construction. And if harsh weather should happen to occur while performing those normal duties, the robots have a great track record of making it through in one piece. I would not be surprised if these tiny autonomous boats become a serious arm of our Coast Guard armada. And I think they would do a great job at it too.

Posted by John Breeden II on Aug 06, 2013 at 11:33 AM


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