It survived a shark attack, battled gale force storms and surfed the East Australian Current during its journey across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to the East Coast of Australia, all in the name of science.
The Pacific Crossing (PacX) Wave Glider – known as “Papa Mau” – has set a new world record for the longest distance travelled by an autonomous vehicle in its 9,000 mile (16,668 kilometre) journey, which took more than 365 days. It landed in Hervey Bay in Queensland on November 19 and is on display today at the Shangra-La Hotel in Sydney.
Created by US-based firm Liquid Robotics, Papa Mau navigated beneath the ocean under autonomous control, collecting and transmitting large amounts of high-resolution ocean data, which has never been available over the vast distances or time frames.
The vehicle travelled through and measured more than 1200 miles of a “chlorophyll bloom” along the Equatorial Pacific, the company said. These blooms indicated the spread of phytoplankton, which is fundamental to ocean life and climate regulation.
Although they are typically measured through satellite imagery, proof of these blooms at this resolution provides a “ground-breaking link between scientific modelling and in-situ measurement of the Pacific Ocean,” the company said.
Liquid Robotics is providing open access to this ocean data as part of its PacX Challenge, a global competition seeking new ocean application and research. Research abstracts were submitted from around the world as scientists compete for a $50,000 research grant.
The company today announced five American finalists in the competition, J Michael Beman and Nicole Goebel from the University of California; Andrew Lucas from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Elise Ralph from Wise Eddy, and Tracy Villareal from the University of Texas.
“These scientists will conduct research into some of the world’s most challenging ocean issues ranging from measuring the ocean’s health and respiration to studying the ocean’s biomass, the most fundamental organisms critical to ocean life,” said Luke Beatman, oceanographer at Liquid Robotics.
Speaking to CIO Bill Vass, CEO at Liquid Robotics, said the shark attack occurred about 40 miles outside of Hawaii when a shark bit through a control cable.
“We had to pull it [Papa Mau] out of the water and replace the cable,” said Vass. “The shark left a tooth in the cable – it’s quite common for them [underwater vehicles] to get nibbled on by sharks.”
The vehicle spent 14 days in Hawaii getting barnacles and muscles removed from its surface and a fresh coat of paint.
Another PacX ocean robot, named Benjamin, is traversing the Pacific Ocean and is expected to land in Australia in early 2013.