Liquid Robotics touts its Wave Glider wave-powered, autonomous, unmanned marine vehicle (UMV) as the world's first marine robot that can operate independently for a year or more at sea without needing maintenance. In fleets, the surfboard-sized robots can form data gathering networks. They are designed for predicting weather patterns, monitoring marine ecosystems, and gathering data about climate change, oil slicks, and algae blooms. Other applications include reconnaissance and surveillance. Their propulsion system mechanically converts wave motion into forward movement, and payloads are solar energy-fueled. Each weighs about 90 kg and has an average speed of about 1.5 knots. Recently, four of them broke a world distance record for unmanned devices, traveling more than 3,200 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean. (Source: Liquid Robotics)
Beth. when I looked at the details--as much as Festo will give--of their jellyfish and penguin robots I was stunned at the quality of the design. Perhaps I shouldn't have been: Festo is known for quality and clearly good design is required for underwater robots, especially autonomous ones. Their utility, at least for surveillance-type apps, seems pretty clear.
Chuck, I agree--they look so vulnerable, yet are surprisingly rugged. In fact, Liquid Robotics has just formed a separate joint venture company with Schlumberger for oil & gas exploration and production services: http://liquidr.com/files/2012/06/Schlumberger_LiquidRobotics_Joint_Venture.pdf
Ann, it would be wonderful to see the military engage in formal tech transfer programs like the national labs do. The labs have programs to send their R&D out to start-ups -- usually start-ups runs by former lab researchers. It's a great idea to make the taxpayer-financed research available to entrepreneurs. Robotics looks like a perfect candidate for tech transfer.