The SailBuoy is a long-duration unmanned surface vehicle that collects ocean data in remote locations, under extreme weather conditions. “Our drone doesn’t care about the size of the waves,” says David Peddie, CTO of Offshore Sensing. “The SailBuoy can float on 12-metre waves like a cork and continue sailing in storm force winds.”
Ocean data is still collected today as it was over 100 years ago when Roald Amundsen conducted his polar expeditions – from on board large vessels. Today’s research vessels do everything from simple data collection to more complex tasks, such as taking and analysing marine samples in situ. While irreplaceable for environmental research, they naturally come with a cost.
“Large research vessels have lots of equipment, crew and scientists. Although very versatile, they can cost around USD 10 000 to 20 000 a day to operate. This makes the data collection from research vessels quite expensive,” explains David Peddie.
The SailBuoy is an ocean drone that complements research vessels, gathering oceanographic and meteorological data in an eco-friendly manner.
“The SailBuoy doesn’t replace research vessels at all,” says Peddie. “Our drones do the mundane data gathering at much less cost so scientists on board can do what they do best.”
Only 2 metres long, the SailBuoy navigates the oceans autonomously and transmits data to and from shore in real-time via satellite. The drone can stay at sea for months and cover vast distances. It even made an Atlantic crossing from Newfoundland to Norway via Ireland, sailing 7 800 km in 118 days.
In addition to research, the SailBuoy has a wide variety of ocean applications, from tracking oil spills to acting as a communication relay station for subsea instrumentation. It can also be used for water quality surveys, wave measurement, echosounder surveys and fish stock location.
The SailBuoy is 100 per cent emission free, using wind power for propulsion and solar power for the electronics and actuators. Contrast this with the carbon footprint of fossil fuel-driven vessels, and it is apparent why the SailBuoy is a more sustainable way to gather data.
Moreover, the SailBuoy collects data at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. “Let’s say you want to assess a location for an offshore wind farm. You can hire a manned vessel to sail around the area for weeks or you can deploy an inexpensive drone like the SailBuoy,” Peddie explains.
Drones represent an emerging market, as they are quickly transforming the way data is collected. By 2025, the market for drone services is projected to reach USD 63.6 billion.
According to Peddie, more industries will begin using ocean data drones when they recognise the sustainability benefits and competitive advantages. As one example, fisheries can deploy drones to assess fish stocks over a large area.
“Imagine having 50 drones continually trolling the North Sea. You’d have a much better idea of where the fish are and you’d use less fuel looking for them,” he says.
Introduced in 2015, the SailBuoy is currently in use in Europe and the Americas, and the company plans to expand into commercial areas such as fisheries and offshore wind farms.