The Saildrone Surveyor — a remote-operated, autonomous vehicle that looks like a sailboat — successfully completed its maiden voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu on Thursday afternoon.
Measuring 72 feet long, the Surveyor was designed for deep-ocean mapping without a crew on board, according to Saildrone Inc. of California, which developed it.
The Surveyor also weighs 14 tons and is outfitted with a sophisticated array of acoustic instruments normally found in larger survey ships with crews. Its sensors can map the seafloor in high-resolution to a depth of 23,000 feet, according to Saildrone, plus examine underwater ecosystems.
Operated by remote control from Alameda, Calif. headquarters, it is primarily powered by renewable wind and solar energy.
“This successful maiden voyage marks a revolution in our ability to understand our planet,” said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO, in a news release. “We have solved the challenge of reliable long-range, large-payload remote maritime operations. Offshore survey can now be accomplished without a large ship and crew; this completely changes operational economics for our customers. Based on this achievement, I am excited to apply Saildrone Surveyor technology to other markets normally reserved for large ships, such as homeland security and defense applications. The implications of a low-carbon solution to these critical maritime missions are significant.”
During the 28-day voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu, the Saildrone Surveyor sailed about 2,250 nautical miles and mapped 6,400 square nautical miles of seafloor.
The Saildrone Surveyor departed San Francisco and traveled past the Golden Gate Bridge June 10 and docked at Honolulu Harbor at about 3 p.m. Thursday, with Diamond Head in the background.
It will undergo a check-up, then embark on its first research mission around Oahu waters this weekend before returning to San Francisco.
The Surveyor offers a less expensive means of collecting quality data from the ocean, whether it be to help address climate change, offshore renewable energy, natural resource management, or maritime safety, the company said in a news release.
Larger ships with crews typically used to collect ocean data can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate.
Without an engine, the Saildrone Surveyor is also more quiet.
Saildrone describes itself as a small business that designs, manufactures, and operates “a fleet of the world’s most capable, proven, and trusted uncrewed surface vehicles” powered mostly by wind and solar.
Upon completion of this successful “proof of concept voyage,” Saildrone intends to build a fleet of Surveyors to be manufactured at U.S. shipyards.
Saildrone also intends to map the entire earth’s oceans, which cover more than 70% of the plant, in the next 10 years.