Will the world’s oceans someday be filled with robots monitoring ports, searching for new oil and gas reserves and tracking endangered marine life? A company called Liquid Robotics, which makes a wave-powered marine robot, took one step closer to world domination and announced on Tuesday that it’s raised its first round of institutional funding — a $22 million round from Silicon Valley venture firm VantagePoint Capital Partners and oil and gas vendor Schlumberger.
Along with the funding, Liquid Robotics also brought on a new CEO, Bill Vass, who was the former president and COO of Sun Microsystems Federal, a subsidiary of Sun that delivers services to the U.S. government. Vass also worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon and was CTO and the technical lead for U.S. Army worldwide personnel systems. So clearly Vass has a long history in the defense sector (and also isn’t someone to mess with in a bar fight).
The unmanned robots, called Wave Gliders (pictured), use the motion of the waves and solar panels to power themselves (they use no fossil fuels or batteries) and collect data from under the water and at the surface of the water above the ocean environment. The robots, which are controlled by satellite, can transmit data up to a cloud service to be used by whatever organization is employing them, whether it’s academia, the defense industry or oil and gas firms.
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The benefit of the design, compared to other marine drones, is that Liquid Robotics says the Wave Gliders are much cheaper, can last a lot longer out at sea and have far fewer carbon emissions. Other companies, like PolyPlus, which makes seawater-fueled batteries, are looking to test out its tech with unmanned marine drones, too, given that the application is one that tests the limits of long-lasting power.
Liquid Robotics says the Wave Gliders are already being used by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Hawaii.
The Wave Gliders could help fight climate change in another way beyond carbon-free wave power: monitoring oceans and marine life for signs of rising oceans and atmosphere warming. Drawn over years, that type of detailed data could be valuable for pinpointing what areas will be hardest hit first by climate change. Google has also been working on an ocean-monitoring climate change project via Google Earth.