U.S. Scientists Test Marine Robot Hurricane-Hunters

As Tropical Storm Isaac was raging in the Gulf of Mexico this week, U.S. scientists were testing an experimental new weather spy tool which is believed to intercept hurricanes.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research laboratory sent the device, dubbed Wave Glider, into ocean waters about 100 miles north of Puerto Rico last week to try to stop Isaac. Photo: Liquid Robotics Inc

“Isaac did not barrel right over it,” said Alan Leonardi, deputy director of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, before the storm made landfall near New Orleans as a Category 1 hurricane.

“But Isaac being the size storm it is, the Wave Glider was able to collect data from the outer rain bands. We can’t steer a hurricane, but we did get good data out of it,” the scientist explained.

A few days later, NOAA got a second look at the storm, from another Wave Glider – named G2 – on a separate oil and gas mission in the Gulf of Mexico, reports Reuters.

The eye of Isaac passed barely 60 miles east of G2, allowed the device to collect required ocean data, such as evidence of a dramatic drop in water temperature, “suggesting that Isaac was vacuuming the heat from the Gulf,” revealed its manufacturers, Liquid Robotics, based in Sunnyvale, California.

“We are proud that it was able to survive the mission,” battling 85 mph sustained winds, and gusts up to 120 mph,” Bill Vass, CEO of Liquid Robotics, said.

“Hopefully the Wave Glider will make it possible to better predict the severity and risk to everyone in the Gulf Coast area in the future.”

By continuously harvesting energy from the environment, Wave Gliders are able to travel long distances, hold station, and monitor vast areas without ever needing to refuel, according to the company’s website.

A unique two-part architecture and wing system directly converts wave motion into thrust, and solar panels provide electricity for sensor payloads. This means that Wave Gliders can travel to a distant area, collect data, and return for maintenance without ever requiring a ship to leave port.

The Wave Glider is a configurable platform designed to support a wide variety of sensor payloads. It can keep station or travel from point to point. Data is transmitted to shore via satellite, and the continuous surface presence means that data can be delivered as it is collected. Payloads can be installed by customers or integrated by Liquid Robotics.

Meteorologists hope to plug the craft’s storm data into forecast models to forecast when a tropical storm is strengthening into a hurricane.

“We’re trying to understand what happens at the ocean surface, which is where the energy transfer happens between the ocean and the overlaying hurricane,” said Erica Rule, spokeswoman for NOAA’s oceanographic and meteorological laboratory.

“Heat energy becomes the kinetic energy that drives the hurricane, and it comes from the warm water that they pass over,” she said. “It’s why hurricanes die when they go over land or over colder water.”

The tested device is steady that it can stay at sea for a year at a time using “renewable energy from technology that converts wave motion into energy for propulsion,” scientists explain.

“Solar panels power the onboard communications and sensor equipment, and it can be piloted by satellite from the company’s California offices,” writes Reuters.

According to NOAA reports, the robots are already in use by scientists in marine research off the coast of California monitoring great white sharks.

A military version, dubbed the “Shark” has already been adapted for communications, intelligence and surveillance operations. “The Department of Defense is a big customer of ours,” said CEO of Liquid Robotics.

Alan  Leonardi revealed that NOAA laboratory is working with the manufacturer “to have several ready for the 2013 hurricane season”.

“They will be placed in a line east of the Leeward Islands in the path of an approaching tropical storm,” he said. Leonardi continued, “It’s what we call a picket fence. The dream scenario would be to have six or 12 of these all get run over by a storm.”

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