This project has now concluded. However, we are continuing to actively pursue the development of this technology and its application in ocean monitoring.

Collecting data across our enormous ocean

Ocean observations are essential to underpinning the development of the blue economy and for improving forecasts of weather and climate for Australia.

Collecting data in the marine environment has mostly relied on voyages on marine research vessels that can be costly to operate and can have planning lead times of years. CSIRO worked with Saildrone, a San Francisco based ocean technology company, to trial unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) in Australian waters. These vessels harvest wind and solar power and can put to sea for long periods of time, working in remote regions and delivering data to shore each day via a satellite link.

USVs are rapidly emerging as a new and versatile tool for blue economy research, for example being used in fisheries research and climate and environmental monitoring. The trialling of the saildrones in Australian waters was a first.

USVs are helping to meet the ever increasing demand for marine data and in particular where the data collection is limited, e.g. in the Southern Hemisphere waters, especially in the Southern Ocean. The sophisticated array of meteorological, acoustic and environmental sensors on the saildrones provide new ways to address a broad range of needs from measuring the extent of marine heatwaves,  tracking blooms of algae in remote areas, and being part of a system to monitor carbon capture and storage sites.

Use of the saildrones have been accessed through funding provided by the CO2CRC and the Australian Governments Education Investment Fund Support for Clean Energy Research Infrastructure.

What’s a Saildrone?

  • An Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs), which is 7 m in length and 4 m in height.
  • Are controlled remotely via satellite communication, relaying data to shore in near real-time.
  • Are powered by wind and solar energy, usually travelling between 2 to 4 knots (maximum speed 8 knots).
  • Are designed to operate unattended in the ocean for up to 12 months at a time with tracks reprogrammable from shore.
  • Have been equipped with a range of sensors to collect meteorological and oceanographic data (e.g. ocean temperature; seawater pH; salinity; bioacoustics; currents; bio-optics; wind speeds).

Saildrones can appear stationary in low wind conditions but they are still operating and are collecting important data. They typically follow steady tracks that are monitored in real-time. Each saildrone is equipped with an Automated Identification System (AIS), radar reflectors and are highly visible.

Although saildrones are easily avoided, other marine users (e.g. vessels and people) are requested to remain more than 500 m away from the systems to avoid interference with the data collection and manoeuvring.

An Australian Government Initiative