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Saildrone Surveyor Earns Ocean Innovation Award for Revolutionizing Ocean Mapping

Accurate ocean topography is essential for navigation, telecommunications, offshore energy, and understanding weather and climate, but less than 20% of the global ocean has been mapped. This lack of exploration is largely due to the high cost of accessing our oceans, which has traditionally been undertaken by large ships that are very expensive to build and operate.

Now, Saildrone is excited to announce it has received the 2022 Ocean Awards’ Innovation Award for revolutionizing ocean mapping with the Surveyor. The Surveyor represents a paradigm shift in how we explore our oceans, carrying the same cutting-edge sonar equipment as survey ships to deliver high-resolution data to the global community, but operating at a fraction of the cost and carbon footprint.

The Ocean Awards are a partnership between the Blue Marine Foundation, a UK-based group focused on ocean conservation and raising awareness for ocean issues, including securing marine protected areas, sustainable fishing, and restoring marine habitats, and BOAT International, a UK-based magazine.

“The Innovation Award recognizes an individual, company, or group that has introduced innovative measures for reducing stress on the oceans or improving ocean health, including the development of promising new technologies. The Saildrone Surveyor will massively ramp up the speed at which we can map the bottom of the ocean so that we know what’s there before somebody has an idea of exploiting it. This is a wonderful thing and brings forward conservation by decades,” said Charles Clover, co-founder and executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation. ‍

Ocean resources must be sustainably managed to ensure future generations have a healthy and productive ocean that will support ever-growing needs for fish and aquaculture. Offshore renewable energy, pipelines, and undersea cables require detailed seafloor information prior to the installation of infrastructure. Ocean mapping also provides the baseline information required to model and understand the potential impacts of climate change on our coastal communities—estimations of sea level rise, improvements to coastal resiliency, and forecasts of tropical storm intensity all depend on accurate knowledge of the seafloor.

Measuring 72 feet long and weighing 14 tons, the Saildrone Surveyor is the world’s largest and most advanced uncrewed surface vehicle for ocean exploration. The Surveyor carries a similar sophisticated array of acoustic instruments to deliver International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)-compliant bathymetry data to a depth of 23,000 feet (7,000 m). And it is the only autonomous vehicle capable of long-endurance ocean mapping operations using renewable energy as its primary source of power. 

Saildrone is also working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to integrate eDNA capabilities, which would collect water samples and analyze them for sloughed-off skin, mucus, and excreta from marine life, which can indicate the genetic compositions of organisms in any area of the ocean.

The data collected by the Surveyor provides critical information about the water column and the seafloor ecosystems. This data helps address issues impacting our world, from climate change and resource management to offshore energy and maritime safety.

Powered primarily by renewable wind and solar energy, the Saildrone Surveyor delivers IHO-compliant multibeam bathymetry data to depths of 23,000 feet (7,000 m).

“Saildrone provides comprehensive turnkey data solutions for ocean mapping, as well as ocean data and maritime security, delivering data to customers in real time via satellite. Powered by wind and solar energy, we do all this in an environmentally friendly way with an incredibly low carbon footprint. Thank you to the Blue Marine Foundation and BOAT International for recognizing this important mission, it is a great honor to receive this award,” said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO.

The Surveyor was designed by Jenkins and built at Saildrone headquarters in Alameda, CA. Jenkins developed Saildrone’s core technology over a 10-year period, driven by a goal to break the world land-speed record for wind-powered vehicles. After achieving his goal, Jenkins continued his legacy of innovation in the ocean. After establishing Saildrone as a leader in maritime data solutions and demonstrating the vehicles to be the most capable and proven USVs available, Jenkins expanded the technology to address new market needs, including lifecycle solutions for offshore wind farms, maritime security, and ocean mapping.

2 SaildroneSurveyorThere were more than 70 candidates nominated for an Ocean Award across six categories, Local Hero, Public Awareness, Lifetime Achievement, Young Initiative, Science, and Innovation. Saildrone was among five very strong finalists for the Innovation Award. Global Fishing Watch’s Marine Manager, Swiss Ocean Tech’s Anchor Guardian, Kakani Katija of the Monterey Bay Aquarium for FathomNet, and this year's runner-up, Whale Seeker, for their Mobius platform, which leverages aerial images and artificial intelligence to detect marine mammals quickly and accurately.

Previous Innovation Award winners include Dr. Chris Wilcox and the Monitoring Control & Surveillance Analytics Team at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Dr. Anne Kapuscinski, director of the Coastal Science and Policy Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Maria Damanaki, global managing director for oceans at The Nature Conservancy.

The Saildrone Surveyor was first launched from Saildrone HQ in Alameda, CA, in 2021. It underwent rigorous sea trials off the coast of Northern California throughout the spring and embarked on its maiden voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu in June. After 28 days at sea, the Surveyor arrived in Hawaii, having sailed 2,250 nautical miles along a never-before-mapped route, revealing previously unknown details about the Pacific Ocean seafloor.

The impressive capabilities of Saildrone’s uncrewed vehicles have been proven in numerous operational missions for science, ocean mapping, and maritime security, covering over 750,000 nautical miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic. The Saildrone fleet has logged more than 17,000 days at sea in some of the most extreme weather conditions on the planet. Saildrone is set to begin building a fleet of Surveyors, to be manufactured at a US shipyard, with the goal of rapidly expanding the global effort to map Earth’s oceans.

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