Saildrones are mapping the ocean, counting fish and monitoring climate change
Climate change is reshaping our planet causing sea levels to rise, melting Arctic ice and raising the global temperature.
According to NASA, the global average sea level has risen seven inches over the past 100 years.
Arctic summer sea ice has shrunk to its lowest levels on record.
And the average global temperature has gone up 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit since the year 2000.
So how do we measure these global changes so that we can pivot and improve how we treat our environment?
Now, what Joining me today is Brian Kannan, Vice President of ocean mapping at sail drone Inc.
And he's coming to us from the sail drone headquarters in Alameda, California.
Brian, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.
Thanks for having us.
Happy to be here.
So please give us a broad overview of what a sail drone is and what is the mission.
So sail drones are uncrewed surface vessels that are wind propelled and solar powered.
And for the last seven or eight years, we've been using them to collect ocean data around the world.
To help inform our science on things like climate change and meteorology and oceanography, so these small drones are about 23 feet long.
We've got over 100 of them.
They are remotely operated via satellite communications from our headquarters here in Alameda.
Now over the last year, we've been developing a very large sail drone that you can see behind me, the sail drones surveyor.
And the purpose of the surveyor actually goes much further in that it's going to be used for ocean mapping.
So it's outfitted with sonars that can record the depths of the bottom and we hope to use that to fill in all the gaps in our what we call the cemetery.
Around the world.
So what types of data are the cell drugs collecting?
[CROSSTALK] So sale roads are collecting everything from atmospheric temperatures.
Sea surface, temperature, relative humidity could ocean currents.
Radiance from the sun, we can outfit them with a lot of sensors.
One of the sensors we've been working with over the last couple of years, our CO2 flux sensor, so How is the CO2?
Is it being ingested by the ocean?
Or is it being exhaled by the ocean?
And so we can measure that carbon flux in the atmosphere right at the sea surface.
Let's talk about the sale drone AI.
How did the sale drones operate autonomously?
So our AI for the operation of the sale drone itself is really about programming them to go to a location And then conduct a mission.
And it's a lot of that is very preplanned by us here and it, then the saildrone goes off and does its work.
And we just kind of keep an eye on it, via satellite communications, for one of our sail drones, we have been working on, something called maritime domain awareness, where we have cameras on our sail drones and we've been taking pictures.
Now, for the last four or five years and we have one of the largest databases of pictures of things on the ocean, or things above the ocean in the world, which allow us to then train a machine learning database to actually recognize that there is an object in the picture, and then classify it.
Is it a boat, and what kind of boat?
Is it a fishing trawler?
Is it a sailboat?
And we're looking at things do like we can see birds in these pictures, can we use that machine learning and train it to recognize birds, which is very helpful for those that are doing things like wind farm surveys or trying to understand, wildlife or birds over the ocean.
Tell us more about maritime domain awareness and why that's important are the sale drones effectively, Maritime cops patrolling a region.
I wouldn't necessarily call them policing, more of observe and report.
Certainly the sale drones.
They're a wind powered vessel, and so they are very slow.
They don't have Any ability to intercept any bond but what you can do is you can patrol something like a marine protected area and report when there's observed illegal fishing, which is I think is a really big use of this technology.
Also for port security or border security, to try and understand when there might be illegal drugs.
They're being transported on the ocean by boats that aren't exhibiting any lights or, don't have any other way being seen.
We call this kind of dark targets.
How do you find those and so by having a sail drone with cameras, you can actually spot those and then alert authorities that there may be something going on.
Have you had any drug busts or con any illegal fishing using the sale drones?
We're still in the early stages.
We've done some exercises with the US Coast Guard and US Navy to demonstrate the capability.
So we haven't been actively engaged in operational patrols to this point.
So tell us about the sale drones customers.
Are these mostly government contracts?
And are the sale drones rented out for a period of time to collect data?
And so let me talk about our business model first.
And so we do not sell the sale drone.
You can't buy one we operate that as, as what we call data.
Our mission is as a service.
Essentially you tell us what you want to do and we set up the sail drone to go out to collect the information that you want and provide that product to you.
And as a customer, you can actually follow online what we call our mission portal which gives you access to see where the drone is, and near real time data from the drone itself.
So you can see the pictures.
It's taking you can see the
The weather and ocean observations that it's making at the time now our customers range from the government, certainly NOAA, National Weather Service office, coast survey ocean exploration and research all the different parts of NOAA Fisheries.
All of them are our customers now.
We work with the Department of Defense.
And we also have commercial and philanthropic customers as well.
We recently were awarded a grant from Google to do a year long study of the Gulf Stream with six of our sail drones.
And we'll be launching that this fall.
And again, we're looking at what is the impact of, of the Gulf Stream and changes in climate to the Gulf Stream what's the impact on the weather in Europe?
So, we have a whole variety of customers.
For me, it's very exciting because we can offer the ability to collect ocean data in remote parts of the world.
So we've done a lot of work in the Arctic, very difficult place to collect data.
We can operate up there for long periods of time our sale drones have operated in the Arctic for up to three, four months at a time.
As long as it's ice free.
We can we can operate there.
So tell us about the sale drones.
Real time mission portal.
What is the latency time on receiving data from a cell drone that might be halfway around the world?
The response time is very quick.
We're using iridium satellite communications.
And so the latency is very small.
So, you have seconds.
Now, the bandwidth on our explore our small sail drones isn't huge.
And so, we do limit the number of pictures we're taking for instance, So that we're not reporting every second.
And we are doing a lot of averaging of the data, but usually it's about one minute data, and that comes back easily over those satellite communication pipes.>>> Do you see the cell drones as a tool in fighting climate change?
This by providing data to tell us what is going on way out there.
What parts of the sail drones play in the climate crisis?
Collecting data where data does not normally get collected.
And so, we are basing a lot of our climate change science, on observations and research that's done in areas where you have a lot of observations.
And I think a great example of this is our Antarctic circumnavigation that we did back in 2019.
So everyone assumed that the Southern Ocean was absorbing CO2 and what we found is we circumnavigated Antarctica was in fact, that wasn't necessarily true.
There were parts of the Southern Ocean that were expelling Co2.
And so when you have ocean models and atmospheric models and climate models that are using that data and making those assumptions And then making decisions from those, this is where Saildrone will really help.
Because now we can go to different parts of the world, especially the ocean.
You have to remember 75% of the earth is covered by water, so there's really not a lot of observations from the surface.
Certainly we have satellite observations, but to actually get down and see what's happening at that ersi interface with a sail drone is really going to be critical to our understanding of climate change.>> Tell us about the surveyor that's behind you and why is that important to the cell drone fleet.>> So surveyor is really Really pushing the envelope for remote ocean mapping.
And only 20% of the world's oceans are mapped.
We know the surface of Mars and the surface of the moon better than we know our own oceans.
And so there's a huge push right now to, to map our oceans.
There's an initiative called seabed 2030.
That's hoping to get.
All of the oceans mapped by the year 2030.
And we're in the UN decade of the ocean now.
And so if you look at just the US exclusive economic zone right now, we've only mapped about 50% of that.
So we don't know what we have in our own ocean space in the US, and then just amplify that around the world.
So it's really important from a resource.
What resources we have in our exclusive economic zone is really important for safety of navigation for surface ships and even submarines, you know, how can we go out and help map.
There just aren't enough ships.
There are enough survey ships within the government and the commercial world to really do this.
And so by augmenting With sailor and surveyor, you can do this for a very long endurance you you improve crew safety because you don't have people on board.
You can do it much more efficiently and you can do it in a very.
Cost effective price point.
So tell us how the sell drones are currently mapping the OSHA floor.
What kinda tech is on board to allow the sale drone to map the ocean floor?
Yeah, it's a great question.
So No matter how domesticated an orc might seem, its blood lust flows just beneath the surface.
And how that really kind of plays out in the real world with how we have stereotyped black men.
Yeah Historically, soundings were captured with a long rope and a piece of land called a lead line and you would get a single point on the ocean floor.
And then you would you know, perhaps that was positioned with celestial navigation techniques like a sextant, today with the multibeam and with GPS We can get total coverage of the ocean floor, precisely positioned and we can see exactly what is down there.
And so with our sonars onboard surveyor, we can go out and collect down to 7000 meters depth of the ocean.
We're the only uncrewed surface vessel that can do that kind of work for the length of time that we can be out there.The benefit of being Wind propelled a lot of solar power.
We can do long endurance missions, we can actually sail to the location, then do the survey, and then sail home.
We're really pushing this technology as well because In my community of the cemetery in hydrography, we're used to sitting on a boat in front of a computer and keeping an eye on these systems directly.
And if you're on a small boat, you can only operate during daylight hours.
So now we could go 24 seven with these systems, monitor them remotely from back here in Alameda.
Go out and tackle the huge gap in biochemistry around the world.
Are there ever times a sell drunk just can't operate like due to choppy weather bad ocean conditions?
So these sail drones are very durable and they can handle up to about 45 knots of wind and heavy sea states.
But certainly it is not.
The ocean is not a very forgiving environment right so they can get in a situation where maybe they will get rolled.
We have very good pilots for sale drones and their experience is generally as a sailor first, and so they understand how to watch the weather and You know, forecast what's going to be coming and maneuver the sail drone to stay out of harm's way as much as we can.>> I see.
So fish populations are dwindling worldwide.
How did the sell drones?
Count fish stocks in the ocean?
Yeah, that's a great mission that we've done for NOAA Fisheries.
And also for some other countries fisheries where we can take what's called a fishery sonar.
That instead of looking for the bottom, the sonar looks in the water column and you're able to see the fish they actually reflect in the sonar.
To give you you know that that biomass of fish in the water column and allow you to do a count of those fish and so, especially last year with the pandemic, no was unable to get their ships underway and we were still able to go up and do the annual public surveys in the Bering Sea Which then drive water to the catch amounts will be allowed for the fishermen.
So, this technology is really proving itself, especially during the pandemic.
That's fantastic, I think that's really cool.
So fisheries and different governments Hire you guys to count the fish populations and then that informs them and how much fish the fishermen can catch each year.
And we're also doing a second year of a really interesting project, where we're counting king crabs.
They've tagged a number of King crabs, and now they're watching them as they scurry across the ocean bottom.
And we're able to use a Saildrone to locate those tags, their acoustic tags.
And we can listen for those from the surface and kind of see where those King crabs are going.
So, what is your relationship with NASA?
I read a study that there was a correlation between NASA satellites and the Saildrone, is NASA and Saildrone currently working together?
We have worked with NASA.
A big thing for satellites that are observing the earth is How do we know what they're observing is actually what's there.
And so you have to do something called calibration and validation.
And so especially over the ocean, by having sailed drones that can take measurements out in the middle of the ocean where the satellites are collecting information.
Really what we're helping NASA do is just verify that yes indeed, that satellite is, Giving us good information.
And you wanna do that for really any satellite system, not just NASA but for NOAA and others, so that you can trust the data that they're giving you.
You'll certainly be the satellite, you can cover a lot of ground very quickly and it's repetitive.
So you could do a lot of change detection, those kind of things.
But if If the data isn't verified upfront, then you have, you know, that level of uncertainty in those measurements as some of that data that you collect belong to sell drone that you could sell to companies and governments later.
So that is part of our business model.
In that we could In fact, you go out and collect data and then sell that data without being, you know, under contract, if you will.
And there's also concurrent collection.
So if we're at collecting the cemetery, we could also be collecting some of those atmospheric measurements and other things in providing those to others.
So there there is that potential.
I will say we'll doing some of that now.
But it is not a primary piece for us.
What is next for sell drone?
What are your plans for the next few years?>> Great question we've got, we've got lots of plans, of course, as anyone would but one of the things we're really excited about is a mid sized drone called the Voyager, which will be about a 10 meter long drone, which is going to be outfitted with a shallow water multibeam system.
Without the deep.
So the surveyor behind me can do deep ocean mapping.
But a lot of what needs to be mapped especially in the U.S. is actually less than 400 metres depth so close to the coast on the continental shelf.
And so we're building a voyager that will be able to do that kind of work.
We can produce them very quickly.
And at a low price and be able to use those to map those shallow waters that need to be mapped around the world.
That system will also be our workhorse for the maritime domain awareness mission.
Because it'll be outfitted with high resolution cameras and radar, and will have the ability to report via satellite and do the things we talked about earlier.
It's got a small diesel electric engine onboard to provide power to all these systems.
That's one of the drawbacks to the multibeam sonars and the radars and those types of things.
They require much more power than can be generated from a solar panel or a hydro generator under the water.
Was there anything that I didn't ask that you want to talk about?
The great thing about sales grown as a company It's just such a great story, to how we got to where we are.
Our CEO and founder started this business first by setting the world land speed record in a land yacht that was powered by a wing, which is very similar to the wing you now see behind me on surveyor.
So then he started the company here in Alameda, where we're in an old Naval Air Station hangar.
So we're reusing
Government buildings and as a US owned and operated company, doing great things for the earth.
We're doing things in a low carbon footprint way.
We're trying to help everyone understand the earth.
And I think it's really a great mission for a company to be able to do this.
I gotta say I first saw sell drone sailing around when I was crossing the Bay Bridge on a bus and I was like, What the hell is that is they're really impressive.
And I'm really excited about your company.
And thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today.
That was my pleasure.
Thanks a lot.
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