Autonomous vehicles Environment

Unmanned Saildrone Successfully Circumnavigates Antarctica Streaming Back Vital Data

Credit: Saildrone - SD 1020 approaches Point Bluff, New Zealand in stormy conditions after finishing the first Saildrone Antarctica Circumnavigation

Saildrone, a wind-powered unmanned surface vehicle (USV), has successfully completed its first autonomous circumnavigation of Antarctica.

The seven-meter long saildrone departed from Southport in Bluff, New Zealand on January 19, 2019 and returned to the same location successfully 196 days later. The vehicle travelled over 22,000km (13,670 miles) around Antarctica surviving freezing temperatures, 15-meter (50-foot) waves, 130 km/h (80 mph) winds, and collisions with giant icebergs.

The vehicle, known as SD 1020, was equipped with sophisticated climate-grade sensors which collected the data in previously unresearched waters. This technology is being used to provide scientists with new insights into our climates and oceans.

According to Saildrone, “This mission was sponsored by the non-profit Li Ka Shing Foundation and all data made publicly available at no cost in order to accelerate our understanding of critical processes affecting humanity. The mission is also an educational outreach initiative, aiming to expose future generations to the rapid changes taking place in the Antarctic.”

Credit: Saildrone Mission map showing completed Antarctic Circumnavigation track

Founder and CEO of Saildrone, Richard Jenkins explains the success of the drone, “The extreme weather conditions of the Southern Ocean winter were the final frontier for Saildrone and with the completion of the Antarctic circumnavigation, there is now no part of the world’s oceans that we cannot measure. It is vital that we drastically improve the understanding of our oceans, which are one of the key drivers of our climate, and ultimately our future.”

Oceans cover more than 70% of the planet’s surface and are integral to regulating heat and carbon for our planet. Because of the remote and harsh environment in Antarctica, it is difficult to obtain data. The saildrone not only survived the difficult journey but streamed back important data that can help scientists understand how it can affect the world’s climate and oceans.

Saildrone is building a fleet of 1,000 unmanned surface vehicles targeting planetary coverage providing round the clock in-situ observations about the world’s oceans.