The company Saildrone manufactures and operates a new generation of research vessels. Sleek, bright orange autonomous, wind-powered vessels that resemble small sailboats, the drones gather the same data as conventional research ships (fish stock, environmental information, etc), at a lower cost, and according to the company, in harsher conditions.
The price of fuel and crew alone explains why companies would choose to rely on autonomous vessels. Approximately 50% of the cost of operating a research vessel is crew and fuel, according to “Science at Sea”, a National Academies Press publication, and fuel expenditures more than doubled between 2000 and 2009. It also makes sense to gather climate change data without running a diesel engine.
Another reason is that the drones can go where larger research ships cannot, according to Saildrone. So far, drones have covered more than 60,000 nm including the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and through the tail end of Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. The drone was damaged by the wind but no equipment was lost, and Saildrone cited it as an example of the drone’s durability, although they also worked to improve the ships endurance in high winds.