Australia to Deploy New Research Drones


Published Jan 24, 2018 5:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australia's research body CSIRO will be deploying new unmanned ocean surface drones, Saildrones, for the first time in Australian waters.

The cooperation with San Francisco-based ocean technology start-up Saildrone will expand CSIRO’s network of marine and climate monitoring systems around Australia, collecting more information about sea-surface temperature, salinity and ocean carbon.

The Saildrones are solar and wind powered and can be at sea for up to 12 months at a time where they can be tasked to assist in science missions including conducting stock assessments, uploading data from subsurface sensors or responding to marine emergencies. They can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world and are equipped with both automatic identification systems (AIS) and ship avoidance systems to alert and avoid other ocean users.

CSIRO Research Group Leader Andreas Marouchos said the partnership would see the organization manage a fleet of three Saildrones deployed from the CSIRO in Hobart. Autonomy is a key technology for accessing the southern oceans, which are understudied due to the rough seas and the limited number of vessels that regularly pass through the region.

CSIRO will collaborate on the development of Saildrone technology beginning with equipping the vehicles with specialized sensors designed to measure ocean carbon, as well as provide biomass estimates in the water column, added to the existing suite of marine and atmospheric sensors.

The ability to remotely control the Saildrones from anywhere in the world means they can be re-tasked quickly to meet CSIRO’s science needs, providing a new way to measure ocean conditions associated with events like marine heat waves or toxic algal blooms that in the past would have required extensive planning and expense for a ship and crew.

The partnership between Saildrone and CSIRO is just one of a number of new research collaborations currently underway through the CSIRO U.S. Office  which was launched in September 2017.

Last year, Saildrones were launched from Alaska for oceanic research in the Bering Sea. NOAA has partnered with Saildrone, Inc. to monitor wind, temperature and salinity to take a look at important Walleye pollock fish stocks, track Northern fur seals and locate right whales through sound.