Startup designs boat drones to sail directly into eye of hurricane

·3-min read
Startup designs boat drones to sail directly into eye of hurricane

Boat drones have been designed to sail directly into the eye of hurricanes in hopes to study the environment.

Silicon Valley startup Saildrone sent five of its autonomous boats into hurricanes into the Atlantic Ocean over the course of this summer.

While planes are able to fly through hurricanes, sailing boats through them is dangerous because of the violent waves.

Scientists hope the sturdy and unmanned boats will provide new information about the environment.

The director of engineering at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Chris Meinig, told CNN: “If you’re in the centre of a hurricane at those type of wind speeds, the ocean is just this big, frothy mess right there where the water begins and the air ends.”

“I cannot imagine purposely flying a plane or a ship into a hurricane. I’d much rather send these robots in there and have them do their work,” he added.

The company has initiated a partnership with NOAA to study how hurricanes begin to form and the speed at which they intensify.

Hurricane Ida which recently hit Louisiana, and later New Jersey and New York at a diminished level, went from a category one hurricane to a category four in less than a day.

Equipped with four cameras, the 23 feet long drones can measure the temperature of the water and wind.

The CEO of Saildrone, Richard Jenkins, told CNN that they’re concentrating on the spray and foam of the water in a hurricane, hoping to figure out how energy and heat interact between the water and the atmosphere.

Data can be accessed live from the company’s Alameda, California offices.

“No one’s ever observed what happens to waves of froth to spray in the centre of [a] hurricane. So we’re hoping that we can see with the camera what the water looks like,” Mr Jenkins said. He added that so far, all of the company’s boat drones have lived to tell the tale of the hurricane season.

Being in the Atlantic Ocean, the drones were not in the eye of the storm as Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico. The storm has killed at least 78 people in the state and across the Northeast.

The company has said that they also plan to study storms on the other side of the US in the Pacific Ocean.

Both Saildrone and NOAA have previously examined storms in Alaska, and Saildrone told CNN that its vessels have sailed more than 500,000 miles so far. They said they became the first unmanned vehicle to go around Antarctica after the journey was completed in 2019.

NASA, the US Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, and universities have also worked with Saildrone, which has made around 100 boats so far.

“The oceans are really driving our global weather and climate,” Mr Jenkins told CNN. “Understanding the rate of change is going to really give us deep insights into our future and how we might need to change things.”

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