Robots Discover Oil

Brian Hicks

Updated March 25, 2013

It’s no secret that the ocean can be rather unforgiving, which is just one reason why data-gathering on the seas can sometimes be easier said than done.

Now, Sunnyvale, CA-based company called Liquid Robotics has made major advancements towards changing this problem, something that has scientists and analysts alike rife with excitement over these potential new possibilities.

According to Technology Review, the company managed to raise $45 million last week during its fifth round of funding, led by Riverwood Capital and VantagePoint Capital Partners. This comes very soon after Liquid Robotics had sent an unmanned autonomous vehicle across the Pacific ocean to mine for data.

Liquid Robotics hopes to use the capital in order to grow its strategy for mining data without the need for manned vehicles in the world’s oceans, something that has yet to be executed in a streamlined, efficient manner.

Wave GliderThe marine robot is known as the Wave Glider. It’s capable of running for a period of months once launched, and it features a slew of on-board instruments that allow for data regarding weather, water temperature, salinity, and more to be measured frequently.

In December 2012, one of the company’s machines set a record for traveling over 9,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean after being deployed for over a year, and Liquid Robotics has stated that it has at least 150 of these machines at sea at the moment.

One of the things that truly sets the Wave Glider apart from the competition is how it is powered. The Wave Glider makes use of two standard solar panels, which are attached to the top of the surfboard-like device.

20 feet below, a series of fins is utilized in order to propel the machine in one direction or another. Satellite connectivity allows for the Wave Glider to be operated remotely, which means it requires little to no physical human intervention once launched into the ocean.

Liquid Robotics has stumbled upon a niche that has long needed to be filled. The information mined from a single journey can be viewed as analytical gold for scientists and researchers, as it helps to monitor the health of harbors, identify any changes that may have occurred in recent years, and inform decisions about whether or not intervention needs to come into play.

While unmanned data mining in the world’s oceans is certainly not unheard of, the scope to which Liquid Robotics has taken this concept far surpasses that which has been seen in the past.

Many are pointing to the ROVs (remotely-operated vehicles) that have trolled waters for years in order to monitor pipelines or survey potential drilling locations, which have perhaps set the stage for what Liquid Robotics is doing with the Wave Glider.

This particular machine, however, happens to be quite a bit less expensive to operate than typical ROVs, and it can be deployed for far longer periods of time. It is also capable of capturing data from the oceans that older, less advanced vehicles could not.

Perhaps the major advancement over ROVs is the fact that the Wave Glider functions on solar power. ROVs have been severely restricted by short battery life, which doesn’t affect the Wave Glider since it is continuously being powered by the sun.

As a result, the costs to deploy and retrieve these machines are far less than those associated with ROVs, which paints a strong future for Liquid Robotics and its products.

While oceanographic data is extremely important, one of the key things to pay attention to as the Wave Glider progresses is whether or not it will be used by the oil and gas industry to survey the waters for drilling.

The company has not identified breaking into this sector as its main goal, but it does indeed list it as a potential market, along with research and defense, according to Venture Beat.

Given the promise shown currently by Liquid Robotics and its Wave Glider machine, it should stand to reason that the company is likely to enjoy a bright future. Major financial advancements for Liquid Robotics could potentially come as the oil and gas industry begins to catch on even further, as this technology has a great deal of promise and is still somewhat in its infancy.


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