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Seafaring robot sails through Sandy unscathed

Navigating the Atlantic 100 miles east of New Jersey, a robot called Mercury continued to transmit hurricane data through 70-knot winds.

A Wave Glider named Fontaine Maru is seen floating toward Hawaii after its launch in San Francisco.
Liquid Robotics

Hurricane Sandy has destroyed houses, cars, and boats, and caused some $20 billion in property damage, but one robot rode out the storm at sea without a scratch, as far as its maker can tell.

Liquid Robotics said one of its Wave Glider marine robots named Mercury was 100 miles east of Toms River, N.J., when Sandy hit, but the machine continued to function.

It withstood winds of up to 70 knots and continued to transmit real-time weather data about the storm.

"The cool part about Mercury battling Hurricane Sandy is that despite it being a Category 1 hurricane, Mercury continued to transmit wind and barometric pressure every 10 minutes," Liquid Robotics' Joanne Masters says. "Being able to provide real-time weather data from the surface and the first layer of the water column of the ocean will help scientists better measure and predict hurricane intensity. This can help save lives and prevent property devastation."

As Sandy approached land, weather sensors on Mercury reported a drop in barometric pressure of more than 54.3 millibar to a low of 946 mbars.

Wave Glider robots are autonomous monitoring devices that use the ocean's waves for propulsion. They have two parts: a float, on the surface, and a sub, below the waves. Moving wings on the sub turn the wave energy into forward motion.

Equipped with GPS, ARM processors, navigation software, and a raft of environmental sensors, Gliders are designed as data-gathering machines for research on climate change, resource management, and weather alerts. The price tag starts at $175,000, and over 150 Gliders have been produced so far.

"We are working closely with scientists around the world to use the Wave Glider technology for better hurricane, typhoon, and tsunami prediction so we can help reduce the risk to human life and property," Liquid Robotics CEO Bill Vass said in a release.

Meanwhile, over the past year, two pairs of Wave Gliders have been crossing the Pacific from San Francisco to Australia and Japan, gathering data on water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and other features, and braving 8,000 miles of ocean.

Clearly these are hardy bots. We'll keep you posted on their journey.