Robopocalypse alert: Robot swims 9,000 miles without human help

Contributed by
Jan 14, 2013, 2:52 PM EST

In what is surely another sign that it's just a matter of time before we're ruled by robot overlords, an American company has just announced that a robot it built swam 9,000 miles from San Francisco to Australia, braving storms and sharks along the way, and it did it without ever being refueled.

The Liquid Robotics PacX Wave Glider nicknamed "Papa Mau" spent more than a year crossing the Pacific Ocean, all the while collecting data about the ocean's ecosystem that Liquid Robotics claims orbiting satellites could never get in such detail.

Papa Mau is composed of two main components. The top half is surfboard-shaped and rode atop the waves, while the lower half's fins and keel steered the craft along its pre-determined route. Though humans did the navigating in advance, Papa Mau steered itself once it was in the ocean, and even powered itself using a combination of water energy and solar power collected from panels on top.

"During Papa Mau's journey, [it] weathered gale-force storms, fended off sharks, spent more than 365 days at sea, skirted around the Great Barrier Reef, and finally battled and surfed the east Australian current to reach his final destination in Hervey Bay, near Bundaberg, Queensland," Liquid Robotics said in a statement.

And if this robot's self-propelling exploits weren't scary enough for those of us certain of a Terminator-like future, keep in mind that there are more of these things out there. Liquid Robotics has already launched three more Wave Gliders. One is scheduled to land in Australia next year, while two more are bound for Japan (though one of those was damaged).

Apart from the data the Wave Gliders collect on their journeys, researchers say they're also an example of the potential the ocean has for future robotics testing.

"The ocean is a very big place, and therefore a safe place to test autonomous robots—these Wave Gliders move slowly and have a low risk of bumping into other objects," said Jeremy Wyatt of the University of Birmingham's school of computer science.

So, we'll keep sending robots out into the ocean to see just how good they can get at sailing, and before we know it we'll be in the age of Robot Pirates. You'd better start learning how to say "parley" in binary now.

(Via BBC)