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A fleet of wind and solar-powered autonomous vehicles that will be used to capture valuable ocean data in Australian waters have been unveiled.

Known as Saildrones, the high-tech, unmanned vehicles will be at sea for up to 12 months and are an element of a Commonwealth and industry funded research portfolio.

The research will see the Saildrones deployed as part of research to test and validate technologies used for future carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects.

Their mission is to measure and monitor sea-surface temperature, salinity, ocean carbon, and biota – helping to paint a more detailed picture of the ocean off the Gippsland coast in Victoria.

They will depart from Hobart before Easter 2018.

“Our partnership with Saildrone and the Australian Government builds on our investment in marine research infrastructure for the nation and supports CSIRO’s strategy for cutting-edge research which facilitates the monitoring and mitigation of climate change,” CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Larry Marshall said.

“Industry partnerships are critical to innovation and are at the heart of our mission as Australia’s national science agency.

“The fleet of Saildrones may be small in stature, but their ability to autonomously monitor and collect rich streams of data at sea for up to 12 months makes them truly unique in terms of the value they can deliver industry, the research community and ultimately our biggest customer – the nation.”

Saildrones are remotely controlled and their systems can be accessed from anywhere in the world using an iPhone.

This means they can be reprogrammed to collect different types of data quickly instead of coming back to shore to change over equipment or sensors.

Saildrone founder and CEO, Richard Jenkins, said CSIRO provided a unique opportunity for marine research collaboration in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Saildrone and CSIRO share the same passion for innovation and engineering to help solve some of the most challenging problems facing the world,” Mr Jenkins said.

CSIRO has equipped each Saildrone with a powerhouse of ocean chemistry, meteorological and marine acoustic sensors which will capture and send live data back to the research team to analyse.

“We have never had an opportunity like this before,” CSIRO scientist Dr Bronte Tilbrook said.

“By combining advanced sea faring sensing technology, we will be able to capture more data over longer periods of time and provide credible information back to government, industry and the community.”

The array of sensors allows Saildrones to be deployed for unique and complex tasks.

Whilst two Saildrones will collect data in the Gippsland Basin that will inform methods for monitoring future CCS sites, the vehicles can also be deployed to future studies in hard to reach places, like the Southern Ocean, where unprecedented climate and ocean data can be collected. 

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