When performed from a distance, satellite-based ocean monitoring picks up on sea levels, algae blooms, and the melt and drift of ice. To establish a system of ocean-based monitors, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Darrin Fresh Water Institute are now developing solar-powered autonomous underwater vehicles (SAUVs) to remain in the water for extended periods, picking up specific chemical and biological data and navigating back into location when they drift off course. While it's common to be using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) for ecological monitoring, they may be more associated with exploration and military capabilities, like the US navy's ARIES sea-mine-locating vehicle. The researchers' use of solar power is as pragmatic as it gets: other AUV systems require a bank of rechargeable batteries, and thus can't be left in the water for too long.
We've discussed the importance of environmental and climate monitoring in both urban and remote locations, but what seems most interesting is the combination of conventional, existing technologies, and resulting connectivity - to the web, and to each other:
"The goal of ongoing experimentation is to develop SAUVs that will communicate and network together, thus allowing a coordinated effort of long-term monitoring, according to Art Sanderson, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering at Rensselaer and principal investigator of the RiverNet project. Key technologies used in SAUVs include integrated sensor microsystems, pervasive computing, wireless communications, and sensor mobility with robotics."
The SAUV II uploads an html document about its status, making GPS location info, water quality data, and energy use immediately available.
(This is the second really interesting solar project I've seen from Rensselaer recently: Materialab, an interdisciplinary group at the Institute (and runner-up in Metropolis' 2004 Next Generation competition), spawned one of my favourite innovations of the year, "integrated concentrator solar modules" which track sunlight through the day, capture heat as well as energy, and use as much as 30 percent of the solar energy for light.)
Something like solar robot feral dogs, except sea-going...
hmmm... imagining solar feral robotic manta rays, swimming slowly through the waves, sniffing the oceans' waters for chemical composition and micro-organism dna sequences...