They call it the ‘Surveyor,’ but it does much more than map the ocean floor

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 5:16 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 12, 2021 at 5:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A 72-foot-long vessel that looks like a cross between a sailboat and small submarine just sailed from San Francisco to Hawaii.

Along the way, it mapped 6,400 square nautical miles of ocean floor.

Saildrone Inc. calls it the Surveyor.

“It travels the ocean propelled by wind and solar power. It also has a small engine for augmenting power for the sensors on board,” Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins said.

The 14-ton unmanned vehicle has on-board sonar, radar, cameras and artificial intelligence that enable it to avoid other vessels in the open ocean and gather data to a depth of 23,000 feet.

The data provides a detailed look at the earth’s underwater topography.

“There are a ton of benefits from safety of navigation in your shallower waters where you might have something that could interfere with ship or submarine navigation,” said Brian Connon, Saildrone’s vice president of ocean mapping.

Information Surveyor gathers can also help in the study of marine habitats and resources. The vessel performs the same mapping large fuel-burning ships do but at a fraction of the cost.

“The advantages are that we use renewable power, so it’s a very small carbon footprint,” Jenkins said. “We don’t burn a lot of fuel. And it’s much, much cheaper. You haven’t got a boat full of crew.”

Connon said data from the surveys will help scientists understand more about tsunami and hurricanes.

“How does the ocean feed those hurricanes, and how’s that interaction actually affect the intensity and the track of a hurricane?” Connon said.

With the success of its maiden voyage, Saildrone plans to build more ocean drones.

“We’d like to have 20 Surveyors operating. With 20 vehicles you can map the entire planet in less than 10 years,” Jenkins said.

The Surveyor is controlled by an operations center in California. It will do more ocean mapping around the Hawaiian Islands before it sails back to the mainland.

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