Underwater robots are one of the new heroes of science. They allow scientists to retrieve data about marine areas that would be too dangerous or even impossible for manned crafts to visit. They can go into great depths and inhospitable environments and for long lengths of time.
A new set of gliders is being developed by a group of 19 European research organizations that will be able to go deeper than any other underwater robots have gone before, to 5,000 meters below the surface. The gliders will be chock full of onboard sensors that will take continuous samples of the water there, gathering data about the ecosystems down there as well as monitoring the water for pollution.
As more industries like mining and oil exploration move further out to sea into deeper waters, these gliders will be active watch dogs to survey the effects of those operations both before and after they get started.
Dr. Mario Brito, who is leading the project from the UK's National Oceanography Centre (NOC), said “The development and integration of sensors that can work at these depths will be a real challenge…it is something that has not been done before and so the science behind it is really innovative. Furthermore the range of sensors this glider can carry makes it well suited to a wide range of applications, both within research and industry.”
The researchers will be focusing on developing depth-safe sensors, as well as structures within the glider that can withstand the increased pressure and a propulsion system.
With those things in place, the gliders will be able to take samples for up to three months at a time to get a full picture of the biodiversity and health of the sea bed.
The researchers plan to have a craft ready for final testing by September 2019 taking place off South East Ireland.
This project called BRIDGES is being funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 program that is specifically focused on “unlocking the potential of seas and oceans.”