Everyone loves a cool robot, and this new one blows others out of the water. A team of researchers recently developed Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging (SOLO-TREC), the world’s first underwater robotic vehicle powered entirely by thermal energy, a completely renewable resource. The robot is poised to revolutionize ocean monitoring: Because it is not limited by a depleting energy source, it can stay underwater for unprecedented amounts of time.
A team of researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the US Navy developed SOLO-TREC. The autonomous underwater robotic vehicle relies on a thermal recharging engine, which derives its power from the temperature differences found at varying ocean depths. The engine can produce about 1.7 watts of energy each dive, enough power to operate the robot’s science instruments, a GPS receiver, a communications device and a bouyancy control pump.
Robots used to be able to spend only a limited amount of time underwater because whatever power source they relied on would eventually run out. SOLO-TREC gets all its juice from the ocean water itself, meaning it can spend indefinite amounts of time beneath the waves. Based on SOLO-TREC’s technology, new underwater robots are sure to revolutionize ocean monitoring for climate and marine life studies, exploration and surveillance.
SOLO-TREC recently completed a three-month endurance test off the coast of Hawaii and is now on an extended mission. NASA and the US Navy say they plan to use thermal recharging engines in next-generation submersibles.