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Unmanned robot to troll Gulf oil spill for data

iRobot says its Seaglider, an unmanned underwater vehicle, will be used to track the presence of oil droplets from the BP oil spill in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Even as BP struggles to stem the gusher of oil coming from the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are looking at ways to measure the environmental impact.

Robot company iRobot, best known for its Roomba vacuum cleaner, said on Tuesday that its Seaglider, an unmanned underwater vehicle, is being deployed to gather information on the presence of oil in the Gulf waters.

The Seaglider can go up to 1,000 meters below the surface and operate for up to 10 months, while sending data via satellite several times a day. It's driven through the water by changes in water buoyancy rather than a propeller.

A Seaglider unmanned underwater vehicle from iRobot, like the one pictured here, has been deployed to track hydrocarbons in the water from the Gulf oil spill. iRobot

Researchers plan to use the device to find and monitor the clouds of dispersed oil droplets deep underwater.

"It is important to track any hydrocarbons that might remain at depths for extended periods of time," said Dr. Vernon Asper, of the marine science department from the University of Southern Mississippi, in a statement. "Previous data suggests that there may be some of this material at depths below 700 meters and that it appears to be moving."

Using Seagliders at these depths can give scientists insight into the "ultimate fate" of the spilled oil.

iRobot said it has sold 120 Seagliders to the U.S. Navy, government agencies, and researchers. It expects that they can be used to monitor gas and oil lines for offshore drilling.