Saildrone, An Armada of Drones to Surf and Save the Oceans

After breaking the wind powered and land speed record in 2009, engineer and adventurer Richard Jenkins decided to apply his patented wing technology to an unmanned sailboat. Saildrone was born.

The Alameda-headquartered company designs and manufactures wind and solar powered unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). They collect ocean data while being cost-effective. Launched and retrieved from a dock, the drones can navigate the seas for up to 12 months in any ocean conditions. They can both be holding station or following a survey pattern.

Saildrone is building the world’s largest high resolution ocean datasets. – Photo credit: Saildrone

Both governments and private companies request Saildrone to collect high quality and high resolution ocean data. It’s easy. Saildrone handles all operation mission execution, like launching, piloting, and retrieving the drones. And practical. The company can as well re-task its USVs in real time if needed. The data is also streamed in real time to desktops and/or mobiles using satellites.

A wide range of applications

USVs offer solutions to a variety of issues, mostly caused by humans. They can cover a wide range of applications, from fish stock assessments, and weather forecast, to oil spill tracking. How does it work? Saildrone’s vehicles carry a standard ocean sensor suite capable of measuring environmental variables. They can also be equipped with calibrated sensors to reach specific goals. For instance, when the mission is to assess fish stocks, a specialized echo sounder will scan the ocean depths.

A vital mission that can be carried out by Saildrone is environmental monitoring. As human activity impacts and contaminates our waters, using a USV to detect oils spills, nitrate run-off, etc. can result in an immediate cleanup response. This is the solution to avoid the spreading of polluting discharges and help save the ecosystem.

The sailing drones are 23-foot long and 16-foot high. They have a payload capacity of 250 lbs. Their small size and light weight make the surface vehicles more efficient than ships. Indeed, they can sail anywhere and do not require humans on board.

A sailing drone was deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. It detected oil by using its natural fluorescence. – Photo credit: Saildrone

Saildrone conducts ocean data collection missions all across the globe. The drones sail the North and Tropical Pacific, the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic, and the Southern Ocean. Last year, a vehicle helped study carbon exchanges across the surface in the Tropical Pacific. Another drone was used to map areas where the Arctic Ocean is acting as a CO2 source.


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