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Sea-Going Drones To Patrol Vast Marine Reserve

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Vast Pitcairn Islands marine reserve is now being monitored by solar-powered Wave Glider drones

The government is to use solar- and wave-powered ocean-going drones to help patrol the world’s largest marine reserve.

The reserve, established around the Pitcairn Islands and covering more than 834,000 square miles, was established in March of last year in order to protect fish, marine mammal and bird life unique to the region, as well as well-developed coral reef.

‘Project Eyes on the Seas’

sea dronesAt the time the government’s Satellite Applications Catapult initiative, with additional funding from the Swiss Bertarelli Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, established a “virtual satellite watchroom” called Project Eyes on the Seas at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire to monitor vessel activity in the Pitcairns’ waters and gather information needed to prosecute unauthorised trawlers.

The system initially relied on data from various satellite-based systems, but is now to include data from ocean-going drones manufactured by Silicon Valley-based Liquid Robotics, according to the BBC.

The system is the latest application for drones, which are currently being rolled out in areas including deliveries, surveillance, industrial inspections and the provision of internet access.

The drones, called Wave Gliders, are already used for observation and surveillance purposes in the defence, oil & gas and science industries, according to the company.

The units rely on solar and wave power, meaning they can stay at sea for months at a time. Liquid Robotics said last week its fleet has now recorded a total of one million nautical miles at sea, or about 46 times around the globe.

The drones (pictured above) consist of a floating module, which bears sensors and other instruments, and a submersible module, with the action of waves upon the two components helping generate power.

Rule the waves

wave rider drone liquid roboticsThe Eyes on the Seas “virtual watchroom” monitors all vessel activity in the protected area, and creates automatic alerts when vessels exhibit suspicious behaviour. The alerts can then be investigated by trained analysts.

The Wave Glider units, which began patrolling in late February, are equipped with a camera allowing them to record images of suspicious vessels and are capable of interacting with satellites.

The drones are the first to complete missions from the Arctic to the Southern Ocean, have operated through 17 hurricanes and have won a Guinness World Record for “longest journey by an autonomous, unmanned surface vehicle on the planet”, according to Liquid Robotics.

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