MUN's underwater robot still on the missing list

December 27, 2013 - via Memorial University

Ralf Bachmayer with Memorial University's engineering department says they have received tips from the public, but none have led to the missing underwater robot. (CBC)

Memorial University's underwater glider that disappeared from Conception Bay over the summer is still on the missing list, but the search has taken staff from the university on plenty of wild-goose chases. The Autonomous Ocean Systems Laboratory's unmanned glider was on a 10-day mission to see if the earth's geomagnetic field could be used to navigate underwater robots. Ralf Bachmayer, associate professor of engineering, said the glider stopped communicating with university staff on June 16, 2013.

"It came to the surface and then detected that the battery voltage was low. After midnight on Saturday, it basically ceased to talk to us over satellite," Bachmayer said.

Since June, the university has followed up on the number of tips from the public — some more helpful than others.

"There was what I would call jokers," Bachmayer said. "After you broadcast [it] initially, there was a message on Kijiji 'underwater glider for sale,' and it was clearly taken from your [CBC's] website — the picture and everything." "I responded to the ad because I wanted to follow up on it but the person never did get back to us."

Months after the glider went missing, sonar picked up what appeared to be a cylindrical object on the sea floor. "We checked all the spots. It was mostly muddy what we saw, however, there was one tree trunk in the general area," Bachmayer said. "We think it might have actually been the signature of a tree trunk on the sea floor."  The search also took Bachmayer and his colleagues to Harbour Grace, where a buoy was mistaken for the missing robot.

'Missing research'
Bachmayer said the seven-year-old glider operated long past its expected operation time. However, Bachmayer said he still wants to find the robot because of the research data the glider contained. He is holding out hope that it will be found one day. "There's things drifting for a long, long time, and it has happened before where it washed up in Ireland or Scotland."

In the meantime, Bachmayer and his colleagues will use two new gliders which were purchased shortly before the glider's disappearance to conduct their research.

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