Artificial Intelligence: Autonomous Saildrone Surveyor Completes 28-Day, SFO-HONO Voyage

During the 2,250 nautical mile (NM) journey from San Francisco to Honolulu, the vehicle mapped 6,400 sq NM of the seafloor.

The Saildrone Surveyor, an unmanned, fully autonomous vehicle designed for deep-ocean mapping, completed its maiden voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu on Thursday, July 8. The 14-ton, 22-meter long Surveyor used wind and solar energy to power its 2,250 NM voyage and array of acoustic instruments. (Saildrone)

The Saildrone Surveyor is an uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) that has a minimal carbon footprint and is equipped with advanced sensors and machine learning (ML) technology to deliver critical data and intelligence from any ocean, at all times of the year.

Ocean sensing – “human-free” and low-carbon

The Saildrone Surveyor represents a huge advance for ocean mapping, a task that is currently expensive, slow and undertaken only by large ships manned by crewmen. As a result, 80% of our oceans, which cover 70% of the planet, remain unmapped, according to Saildrone.

The unmanned Saildrone Surveyor, in contrast, carries sensors that scan the water column looking at underwater ecosystems and map the seafloor in high resolution to a depth of 23,000 feet (7,000 m).


During its voyage, the Surveyor successfully accumulated valuable mapping data and beamed it to an external team from the University of New Hampshire (UNH).  The team praised the quality of the data and said it was as good as that from a ship.

“Due to the wind-powered nature of the vehicle, it is very quiet, and this enables the very accurate acoustic measurements needed to map to these depths,” said Larry Mayer, director for the UNH Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (CCOM).

The proof-of-concept voyage proved the Saildrone Surveyor could conduct seabed mapping operations as well as survey ships that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and hundreds of thousands of dollars per day to operate.

Paradigm shift

“This successful maiden voyage marks a revolution in our ability to understand our planet,” “We have solved the challenge of reliable long-range, large-payload remote maritime operations,” said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO. “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,” he added. “The implications of a low-carbon solution to these critical maritime missions are significant.”

Related Story:  Autonomous Mayflower’s Transatlantic Voyage Cut Short After Glitch

All images: Courtesy Saildrone                                                   

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