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Unmanned air, ocean drones ace testing off Kawaihae

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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis­tration researchers recently tested aerial and ocean drones off the Kohala Coast.

The tests involved surfboardlike robots propelled by the power of waves and the sun as well as unmanned aircraft, West Hawaii Today reported.

Officials hope to eventually use the technologies to find vessels and marine life in distress, conduct wildlife surveys and access hard-to-reach areas.

Unmanned aircraft systems are potentially cheaper, greener and safer than manned flights, said Matt Pickett, the aviation operations manager for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

During the tests, two Wave Gliders equipped with acoustic sensors identified the location of a target vessel and relayed that information to an operations center.

This information was programmed into the Puma Unmanned Aircraft System, which found and photographed the target.

Pickett said the best part of the tests two weeks ago off Kawaihae was seeing the two different unmanned technologies working together.

The office hopes explore how drones may be used as potential tools for environmental research and management within the sanctuary system.

The agency oversees 14 marine protected areas from Florida to American Samoa. Many of the sanctuaries are large, remote and difficult to travel around, like the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The agency is testing unmanned aircraft systems, autonomous underwater vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles as part of its research.

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