Image via YouTube video
Scientists are already rushing to determine the environmental impact of the Gulf oil spill, and iRobot is helping with the Seaglider, an unmanned underwater vehicle that has been sent to the ocean floor to prowl for submerged oil. iRobot is known for the Roomba and consumer cleaning robots, but this UUV unfortunately won't be doing any cleaning. Instead, researchers need to measure the presence of oil trapped underwater, so the Seaglider, which can operate for up to 10 months, was released to find oil and report data. CNET reports that the Seaglider can go up to 1,000 meters below the surface, using changes in water buoyancy to maneuver through the water, rather than a propeller. It can send information via satellite several times a day, which researchers will use to monitor the clouds of dispersed oil droplets deep underwater.
"It is important to track any hydrocarbons that might remain at depths for extended periods of time," said Dr. Vernon Asper, of the marine science department from the University of Southern Mississippi, in a statement. "Previous data suggests that there may be some of this material at depths below 700 meters and that it appears to be moving."
As reported at NECN, One of iRobot's Seagliders has been diving into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico since this weekend.
Tom Frost, iRobot's program manager for maritime systems, explains, "We can record the data from the surface all the way through the water column as the glider dives. And then when we surface back up we can report that back in real time over a satellite link. So you're getting a real time picture of what is in the water column."
"The nice thing about the glider is you can put it out there, it can operate for ten months at a time. You don't need a boat out there to do this operation, in fact we're piloting the glider from North Carolina."
Here's a short animation of the Seaglider:
iRobot said it has sold 120 Seagliders to the U.S. Navy, government agencies, and researchers, and the company states the devices could be used to monitor gas and oil lines for offshore drilling.
If only it had a built in Roomba so it could clean up the oil it encounters...
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More on the Gulf Oil Spill
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The Anatomy of an Oil Spill Cleanup: What Works and What Doesn't