Photos via IMF-GEOMAR
Sure, they look like torpedoes. But they're so much more useful. They cruise the ocean, exploring depths of over 1000 meters (3,280 ft)--and they use only as much energy as bike light in the process. A fleet of these robot gliders, which move across the ocean's surface like a sailplane, is being massed for their first 'swarm' mission in the tropical Atlantic. The gliders will scour the seas, plumbing the depth with sensors and cutting edge instruments. Science Daily describes the robots:
The payload of the two-metre-long yellow diving robots consists of modern electronics, sensors and high-performance batteries. With these devices the marine scientists can collect selective measurements from the ocean interior while staying ashore themselves. Moreover, the gliders not only transmit the data in real time, but they can be reached by the scientists via satellite telephone and programmed with new mission parameters.
The last part perhaps being the most significant, as these high tech gliders represent a major advancement for ocean exploration capabilities--previously, the seas had been studied by some 3,000 'drifters' that performed much the same task. However, the drifters were merely released, and left to be carried by the ocean current, collecting data as they went. The new 'glider' robots don't have motors either--but they have sails that can be programmed to move via satellite. Scientists can thus control the gliders' path and more closely monitor its results.
A single glider was put on a test run last August, and it was a resounding success. You can even see the data it obtained for yourself.
But now, a full-fledged mission is about to get underway. Science Daily reports that "The Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in Kiel, Germany, recently obtained the biggest fleet of so-called gliders in Europe." This coming March, that fleet will be released in the Atlantic Ocean, and will bring new insights into "water circulation and stratification as well as their impact on chemical and biological processes." The gliders will let researchers "sample a complete 'sea-volume' and not just a single point or a single cross-section in the ocean.
So don't panic if you see a fleet of yellow torpedoes floating towards you in the Atlantic--they're just high tech robot gliders. And they're here to help.