Exploring Earth’s final frontier – for the benefit of humankind

Polly Davis
Polly Davis
March 21, 2022

Our oceans are home to the Earth’s highest mountain ranges and deepest canyons. They absorb about 25% of all carbon released into the atmosphere annually, as well as 90% of the excess heat generated by global warming. Yet in spite of their biological richness and importance in sustaining life on earth, they still remain largely unexplored. That was until San Francisco-based company Saildrone set out to unlock the secrets of the sea.

Because of the sheer size and depth of the ocean, not to mention its often remote and harsh nature, collecting data from the sea has always been fraught with difficulty. In fact, strange as it may seem, the majority of data about our oceans comes from satellites in outer space. This is what Saildrone technology is now changing as their robot sea-faring drones go where no sailing vessels have previously been able to go. And the implications for our climate and our future are huge.

An exciting new chapter in marine exploration

For example, Saildrone measurements can be used to gain a greater understanding of air-sea exchanges of heat and carbon dioxide, as well as ocean dynamics. We already know that any change in ocean chemistry can have severe consequences on marine ecosystems and the ocean’s multitude of life – from microscopic phytoplankton and coral to fish and marine mammals. Saildrone technology can now provide much-needed data on the exact impact of this change. The robot sailing drones can measure the rate of carbon released from the ocean and the effects of increased carbon in seawater on the delicate ocean ecosystem. And these measurements can now be made in all oceans – and not just the places accessible by boat.  

When it comes to renewable energy, the remote ocean monitoring technology can be used to give wind farm developers a detailed understanding of the ocean floor and reveal topographical changes caused as ocean currents as they redistribute sediment. The data collected can also track the migration patterns of marine mammals’ patterns as well as underwater sound levels. This enables developers to design wind farms so that they consider not just our need for efficient energy production but also continued biodiversity under the sea.

Durable, robust and sophisticated

While the technology may be sensitive, Saildrones are certainly not. In fact, they can withstand the harshest environment. From the very eye of the storm, with wind speeds of 120 miles per hour, Saildrones can send accurate data on barometric pressure, air and water temperature, humidity and wind conditions. This kind of high-value information lets meteorologists better understand how hurricanes intensify and improve how they forecast future disasters.


Powered by wind and solar energy, Saildrone USVs (Uncrewed Surface Vehicles) can be at sea for up to 12 months at a time with absolutely no maintenance or refueling needed. This removes the need for a need for an expensive crew as the Saildrones can simply be monitored and controlled from shore from a regular smart phone. On their journey, they continuously collect valuable data using sensors that can capture in-situ meteorological and oceanographic data. Compared to satellite imagery, this technology provides a more accurate data set with no concerns around issues such as cloud cover affecting image quality.

Data can secure our future

Since their first mission in the Arctic in 2015, the value of Saildrones is becoming more apparent to scientists and researchers in many different fields. By providing access to high quality data from some of the world’s most remote oceans, this technology can contribute to some of the most urgent challenges faced by our planet – not least climate change that threatens our very existence.

According to predictions, tropical coral reefs may disappear by the turn of the century and by 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.  These are just some of the reasons we need to protect our oceans – while we still can. To support this and strengthen the management of our oceans and advance ocean science solutions, the United Nations has declared 2021-2030 a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. And with climate change and loss of biodiversity advancing at a terrifying rate, taking action now is not soon enough.

Faced with these life-threatening challenges, the contribution of Saildrone technology to our understanding of the oceans is urgently needed. In the words of Sylvia Earle, renowned oceanographer, “Far and away, the biggest threat to the ocean is ignorance.” With their unique mapping abilities and robust design, this ignorance is exactly what the unique Saildrone technology is working to overcome as they explore earth’s final frontier.