First study of 3-D seabed imagery in Gulf by remote drone celebrated

Updated: Aug. 1, 2019 at 4:55 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Saildrone stands like a statue in victory. The unmanned, autonomous surface vehicle company joined the University of Southern Mississippi and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as co-test pilots of a first-of-its-kind study that could change the world’s oceans as we know it.

The technology geeks are in heaven.

“This particular application today is important because this is the first time that we are using a multi-beam seabed mapping sonar on a Saildrone,” said Rear Adm. Shepard Smith of NOAA.

In other words, researchers are now receiving 3-D images of the ocean bottom.

“This could give us the ability to map the world’s oceans much more efficiently and quickly than we can do currently with our current manned technology,” he said.

That could be huge for commercial and environmental applications.

“We’re going to publish papers, we’ll give presentations and we will be able to let people know and not have to relearn the lessons we learned but also to challenge industry with the parts that are really hard,” said Brian Connon, director of USM’s Hydrographic Science Research Center.

Saildrone is powered by wind and solar, performing data collection missions in the harshest ocean environments. This summer, it has been in the Gulf of Mexico all summer testing the new technology.

Officials said it passed the first test.

“Absolutely, I think we were all very surprised at how well it came off on the first run,” Connon said. “Every time you try something new, they usually have some problems. A lot of the problems we saw were things we knew we were going to have.”

This was a research project by USM, which was sponsored by NOAA, and this was the right place at the right time for it.

“Mississippi, and specifically Gulfport with USM, is really the leading edge of mapping of the oceans,” said Richard Jenkins, CEO of Saildrone. “You have an amazing area down here that is always changing, whether it’s hurricanes or storms or oil or gas pipelines. It’s a great place to evolve technology; it’s a great place to test that technology.”

The drone will now go to Saildrone headquarters in California for adjustments and may end up back in Gulfport next summer for more testing.

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