Undersea robots

Ocean-observing robots developed at the University of Washington are to be commercially produced by iRobot.

Record-holding, ocean-observing robots that operate at sea for months at a time are to be commercially produced by iRobot under a licensing agreement with the University of Washington.

iRobot, a US company that makes robots for the consumer and military markets, secured the rights to build the so-called Seaglider robots after negotiating a deal with the University’s technology transfer department.

Seagliders, developed by the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory and the School of Oceanography, have repeatedly set the world’s endurance record for autonomous underwater vehicles.

Two Seagliders deployed in the Labrador Sea operated on their own for more than seven months in 2004 and 2005, a record that still stands. In that time they travelled 2,325 miles through the sea.

They have also been deployed in some challenging conditions, such as the intense Kuroshio Current, the world’s second strongest ocean current. The Kuroshio, like the Gulf Stream, is a western boundary current that acts as a conveyor belt carrying warm tropical waters north and clips along at 1 to 2 feet a second in some places.

Together, they have amassed more than a dozen years of operating time, more sea time than any other autonomous underwater vehicle.

A Seaglider can dive from the surface down 3,300 feet and back up every 3 to 9 hours. It remains at the surface long enough to transmit data it has collected, relay its position and receive instructions via a satellite phone network, before diving again.

The University of Washington has built 70 Seagliders that are being used by a variety of academic institutions such as the University of Hawaii and Oregon State University, as well as by the US Naval Oceanographic Office