Saildrone has passed yet another huge milestone, sailing through its 100th day, deployed and alone in the Pacific ocean. During that time, it has covered 5873 miles at an average speed of 2.5 knots.
To put that significant engineering feat into perspective, here are a few numbers;
After leaving Hawaii, we sent SD1 south to undertake some key demonstrations of potential applications for Saildrone technology;
There are many types of 'protected areas' throughout the worlds oceans. Some are designated fishing areas, where only permitted vessels are allowed to fish, others are marine sanctuaries where 'no-catch zones' are in force to protect the local environment. The problem is that while the laws are in place to govern these areas, governments and conservation groups can not afford to enforce the laws due to the remote locations of the protected areas.
Getting a ship or aircraft to these remote island communities, many thousands of miles offshore is prohibitively expensive. Therefore commercial fishermen constantly abuse the protected areas, knowing they are almost invisible to the authorities and immune from prosecution. Cheaper ways must be found to patrol these areas and record which vessels are in the area.
Saildrone, is a perfect platform for to provide a persistent presence in these areas. Fitted with a camera, AIS and a radar, a Saildrone could permanently patrol the protect area, reporting any vessels it encountered back to HQ via satellite.
To test this concept the Marine Conservation Institute asked us to sail to Palmyra, one of the most pristine and beautiful atoll's in the world, and perform a lap at 12nm radius. This is a tough mission because the winds are normally light and Palmyra has some very strong currents around it, due to its position in the equatorial current.
Saildrone performed perfectly, taking just 20 days to reach Palmyra from Hawaii, then taking only 48 hours to complete a circumnavigation of the Atoll. The vehicle encountered some very strong currents (>2.5 knots) in the process, which slowed progress a little, but Saildrone coped well, staying on course and in control. The next mission is to equip a Saildrone with Cameras and sensors then return to Palmyra for an extended monitoring mission, but we feel we have already demonstrated enormous potential for this role, with capabilities far in excess of any other existing technology.
Throughout the world, there are numerous science buoys tethered to the seabed. These buoys perform a crucial role in weather prediction and monitoring global climate change. However, they are extremely expensive to deploy and maintain. One of these networks is called the TAO project , which is located in the equatorial waters of the pacific. This is a particularly tough network to maintain due to the depth of the water (>4000m) and the remoteness of the location from land.
Working with NOAA / JPEL, Saildrone's next mission was to conduct some navigation tests in the area of the TAO network. Again, due to the strong currents and very light winds this is a tough challenge, but sailing upwind and up tide, Saildrone demonstrated it was entirely possible to navigate these areas at will, albeit a little slower than the 3-4 knot averages we were used to in the windier Northern Pacific waters.
On the tracking page, there is no smoothing to the line, this is a real plot updated every 15-30 minutes, so it is extremely impressive to see the straightness of the paths, in up to 3 knot cross currents. Where the line is wavy, or zig-zig, Saildrone is going up, or down wind and is unable to sail a direct course.
As we have now confirmed it is entirely possible to navigate a vehicle to the Tao Network without the need for a ship, the next phase will be to equip a Saildrone with sensors equivalent to those found on a typical TAO buoy, then return to the area to perform a real monitoring role. This will happen in 2014.
So where now? Well, we have a long list of demonstrations and will take each day as it comes. Remember, this was our very first prototype Saildrone and was designed with the goal of reaching Hawaii. So far, it has exceeded it mission by almost 3x, so every additional day of deployment is a bonus and we are going to push it to its limit to see what we can learn from extreme endurance testing.