Wave-Powered Seabot Now A Shark Tracker

The Wave Glider, a remarkable little renewably powered seagoing robot, is apparently also fearless. It’s now a shark tracker.

Powered by the waves and with a solar panel that provides electricity for sensory payloads, the Wave Glider has been recruited by Stanford University marine sciences Professor Barbara Block to work the waters off the California coast between Monterey Bay and Tomales Point.

wave glider, white shark

image via Stanford University

According to Block’s lab [PDF], the 7-foot-long Wave Glider, along with moored buoys, will pick up signals from acoustic tags on white sharks that pass within 1,000 feet, then relay the data to Block’s team back on shore.

“Our goal is to use revolutionary technology that increases our capacity to observe our oceans and census populations, improve fisheries management models, and monitor animal responses to climate chage,” Block said in a statement.

Barbara Block and Keith Kreider (image via Stanford University)

Whether the Wave Glider qualifies as revolutionary, who knows? Seems like it. Anyway, it’s definitely way cool.

From above, only the sleek Float is apparent, rolling along the surface of the water, its topside covered by solar cells. But down below, tethered to the Float, is the Sub.

“A rising wave lifts the Float, causing the tethered Sub to rise,” developer Liquid Robotics explains. “The articulated wings on the Sub are pressed down and the upward motion of the Sub becomes an up-and-forward motion, in turn pulling the Float forward and off the wave. This causes the Sub to drop, the wings pivot up, and the Sub moves down-and-forward. This process is repeated again and again as long as there is wave motion on the surface, even the smallest amount.”

By using the sea’s never-ending motion for power, the Wave Glider can go out on virtually unlimited missions. It comes equipped with GPS and a navigation system that allows it to be guided on its journey. And because it is always on the surface – unlike submergible research vessels – it’s always available to deliver and receive data via satellite.

Earlier this year, a caravan of Wave Gliders traveled from the mainland to Hawaii.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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