Saildrone’s brightly colored robotic boats appear to have a death wish.
Saildrone creates self-driving ocean vessels for environmental research. This summer, the Silicon Valley startup launched five ships into the path of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. While planes can fly through hurricanes, the screams of the winds create such massive waves that sailing boats right into them is best avoided.
Saildrone’s ships are unmanned and designed to withstand hurricane winds and massive waves. Scientists are optimistic that the vessels will help them better understand how storms intensify.
“If you’re in the center of a hurricane at those type of wind speeds, the ocean is just this big, frothy mess right there where the water begins and the air ends,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director of engineering Chris Meinig told CNN Business. “I cannot imagine purposely flying a plane or a ship into a hurricane. I’d much rather send these robots in there and have them do their work.”
Saildrone has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to research how hurricanes form, including their rapid intensification. In less than 24 hours, Hurricane Ida, which hit the Gulf Coast before making its way to the Northeast, went from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm.
Saildrone’s vessels are 23 feet long and equipped with four cameras. They monitor the wind as well as the ocean and air temperatures.
According to CNN Business, Saildrone CEO Richard Jenkins is concentrating on the spray and foam on the water during a hurricane. They want to know how energy and heat are transferred from the ocean to the atmosphere. According to him, data is streamed in real time back to Saildrone’s offices in Alameda, California.
“Nobody has ever seen what happens when frothy waves spray in the middle of a hurricane. So we’re hoping to see what the water looks like with the camera “Jenkins stated his opinion.
All five of Saildrone’s vessels have so far survived the hurricane season, according to CNN Business. Because the drones are in the Atlantic Ocean, they were not in the path of Hurricane Ida, which recently killed at least 78 people in Louisiana and the Northeast, but Saildrone said it plans to study storms in the Pacific Ocean as well.
Saildrone and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have previously investigated oceanic conditions near Alaska. According to CNN Business, Saildrone has sailed over 500,000 miles and claims to be the first unmanned vehicle to circumnavigate Antarctica in 2019.
NASA, the US Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, and universities are among Saildrone’s other clients. Saildrone has produced approximately 100 vessels and plans to produce more in the future, including larger vehicles.
Jenkins stated that his team is motivated by concerns about the environment.
“The oceans are really driving our global weather and climate,” Jenkins said. “Understanding the rate of change is going to really give us deep insights into our future and how we might need to change things.”