Inc.: The Most Exciting Drones Aren't in the Air--They're in the Ocean, June 13, 2017


In July, three odd-looking, 23-foot-long sailboats will launch from a dock in Alaska's Dutch Harbor. They will meander the seas between the U.S. and Russia to track ice melt, measure the ocean's levels of carbon dioxide, and count fish, seal, and whale populations. And they'll do all this without a single human being on board.

The autonomous boats belong to Saildrone, a 26-person startup based out of a hangar at what used to be the Alameda Naval Air Station in California, a short ferry ride from San Francisco. Saildrone's boats, which the company refers to as unmanned surface vehicles, are outfitted with 42 meteorological and oceanographic research sensors. They're guided by GPS and controlled by a remote rudder. Because there is no human crew, they can go to hard-to-reach and difficult environments to collect data and help scientists gain a better view of the state of ocean health and the changing climate.

Oceanic data is valuable, but for decades the only way to study the world's hostile waters was to deploy a stationary buoy, launch a satellite into space, or send a government research vessel that runs hundreds of thousands of dollars a day to operate--on top of its initial price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars. Saildrone offers government researchers and private companies more easily accessible data on fish and wildlife populations, environmental health, ocean temperatures, weather, and climate change.