Fast Company

Liquid Robotics: Wave-Powered Boats That Can Sail Forever

The little boats are used for ocean monitoring, but could be used for much more soon, thanks to the company's new hire, former astronaut and Googler Ed Lu.

So you've been on the Space Shuttle Atlantis and Russian Soyuz spacecraft, served at the International Space Station, and even spent some time working at Google. What can you possibly do next? Ed Lu, the man with the aforementioned C.V., this week announced that he is joining Liquid Robotics as the chief of innovative applications ("Grand poo-bah was taken," he jokes).

Liquid Robotics is the company behind the Wave Glider robot, the first marine robot to use the ocean's wave energy to propel itself forward--a trait that means the robot has zero emissions, requires no fueling, and doesn't need any power. The robot--which travels at a snail's pace of one to one and a half knots but can potentially travel for years on end--can also hold solar-powered sensor payloads that transmit data via satellite.

According to Lu, the onboard sensors can monitor pollution, oil spills, salinity levels, and even phytoplankton activity. "We have monitoring stations everywhere on the ground, but we don't have such things in the ocean," he says.

That's not to say that Liquid Robotics doesn't have plenty of experience with Wave Gliders out in the field. The robot has been used by a number of different organizations, including BP (for water quality monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico), NOAA, and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Instead of selling the glider to these organizations, Liquid Robotics generally sells data services (i.e. selling water monitoring services to BP).

So where does the Wave Glider go next? As part of his new role, Lu will help dream up new applications for the robot. But he realizes that he's not the only one with the answers: "If you think you understand all the various possibilities out there, then you have another thing coming."

[Images: Liquid Robotics]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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