Liquid Robotics’ souped-up WaveGlider, a robot the Navy’s interested in for gathering open-sea intelligence, now runs on solar and wave power. Photo: Liquid Robotics
No robot is more experienced at sea than the Wave Glider, a 9-foot platform for studying the world’s oceans. Now it’s set to last even longer, as its manufacturer is powering it with energy from the sun and the sea itself — and is pitching it to the Navy, whose annual gala expo begins today.
Meet the new Wave Glider SV3, an upgrade of the small glider that’s logged 300,000 nautical miles of maritime transit since its 2009 introduction. A largely autonomous tool to gather data and study the world’s waterways, the Wave Glider has already attracted attention from the Navy, which has great interest in figuring out how to get robots to span the seven seas.
The old model of the Wave Glider relied on converting energy from the waves themselves into its fuel supply — helpful, since there’s no robot refueling station far out at sea. The SV3 version keeps the wave energy, but adds solar panels and battery storage capacity sufficient not only to speed up the surfboard-like vessel, but also to power the sensors, electronics and transmitters on board.
That will help the SV3 stay out at sea “forever, conceivably,” says Bill Vass, CEO of Liquid Robotics, the company behind the Wave Glider. “It’s limited only by fouling — stuff gets on it — or hardware failure.” In November 2011, for instance, two Wave Gliders set out from San Francisco; by January 2013, they emerged on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, traveling 9,400 nautical miles.
That has the Navy’s attention. It’s no accident that Liquid Robotics is unveiling the SV3 today. Just outside Washington D.C., the massive Navy community is assembling for the annual three-day Sea Air Space conference, the San Diego Comic Con of seapower. It’s where the Navy’s top officials announce and explain the sea service’s coming priorities. One of those priorities is going to be laser weaponry — as Danger Room will explain a little later in the day.
The Wave Glider SV3 is at the intersection of two others: robotics and renewable energy. Senior Navy officials are hot to create an undersea robot that can last great distances, performing missions that range from aquatic surveillance to mine destruction to submarine hunting. Problem is, no engineer has figured out how to give the robots a sufficiently long-lasting fuel source to power cross-oceanic transit — a necessity, since the robot isn’t going to swim into port to refuel. Which ties into another Navy necessity: immunizing its budget from the fluctuations in fuel costs, especially as its efforts at using biofuels ran into major congressional obstruction.
The Navy’s ships and subs aren’t about to rely on sunlight or rolling waves for power. But it is interested in using robotic sidekicks for its Littoral Combat Ships. Vass believes the SV3 can demonstrate that wave and solar power can generate enough energy not just to propel an autonomous glider forward, but process terabytes’ worth of data collected by the on-board sensors.
A proprietary, cloud-based operating system, called Regulus, powers the SV3′s computers, thanks to a Linux-Java combination. (James Gosling, Java’s inventor, is Liquid Robotics’ chief software architect.) That helps the glider operate in an autonomous mode, while keeping a robotic eye out for unusual ships or the acoustic signals of torpedos and submarines — data it can wirelessly ping to Navy ships. Taken off autonomous mode, the glider can be steered remotely thanks to an app loadable onto smartphones, tablets and laptops. “It’s basically a floating data center,” Joss says.
Which makes it par for the course on the showroom floor at Sea Air Space, where companies large and small line up to display the latest gear they want to sell the Navy. The Navy may not place a big order for the SV3. But it’s going to at least want to know how the upgraded glider works.
External link: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/04/wave-glider/