A couple of things are certain, if we want to understand the planet you need to understand the ocean and the atmosphere. This is where a cool new gadget or thing comes in called the SailDrone. With the increasing uses of drones, it is not surprising that a saildrone would be.

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How the SailDrone was started

Source: Saildrone.com

Sailing enthusiasts might assume that Saildrone’s wing design was inspired by America’s Cup winged trimarans and catamarans, but the design comes from a decade-long pursuit of a world land speed record.

British engineer (and Saildrone CEO) Richard Jenkins was an undergraduate in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London in 1998 when he was first introduced to land-sailing and the idea was to beat the wind-powered world speed record, which stood at 116.7 mph at the time.

That kernel of an idea became a passion pursuit he called Windjet. For the next 10 years, 1999 – 2009, Jenkins relentlessly pursued the record, testing five different evolutions of the vehicle, on a mixture of surfaces from ice in Canada, to Salt lakes in Australia, to dry, alkali lake beds in North America. In 2007 he finally found a title sponsor and partnered with Ecotricity, a UK wind power producer, and the Windjet Project became known as the Ecotricity Greenbird—a nod to Donald Campbell’s Bluebird, but run on clean wind power, rather than dirty fossil fuels.

Like Bob Schumacher, who set the 116 mph record that Jenkins aimed to beat, Jenkins designed his land sailing vessel with a rigid wing, rather than a conventional sail. For strength and stability and to minimize weight, Jenkins’ vehicle is built almost exclusively of carbon fiber; bearings for the wing and wheels were the only metal parts on the Greenbird. The wing produces thrust similarly to how an airplane wing generates lift. Wind passing around the wing propels the vehicle forward at up to five times the wind speed.

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The real innovation, the one that allowed Greenbird to break the speed record, was the aerodynamic wing control.

On a sailboat, the sails are trimmed with ropes and human force, which requires a lot of power and precise control. Jenkins’ innovation was to use aerodynamic control, so the wing would trim itself for optimum power. In the same way that the tail on an aircraft controls its pitch, and hence the lift generated, the Greenbird tail, mounted vertically, would very precisely control the “angle of attack” of the wing, thus producing maximum power, without stalling. A small tab on the tail—usually referred to as the “elevator” on an aircraft— controlled the tail, while consuming very little energy.

On March 26, 2009, on a dry lake bed in California’s Mojave Desert, Jenkins used the tail innovation on Greenbird to break the existing record by nearly 10%, clocking a new world record speed of 126.2 mph.

After breaking the record, Jenkins moved to California and turned his energy toward sailing on water but using the unique Greenbird wing/tail/tab system. This led to an unmanned, autonomous surface vehicle, which became Saildrone.

What is a SailDrone?

A saildrone is an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) that combines wind-powered propulsion technology and solar-powered meteorological and oceanographic sensors to perform autonomous long-range data collection missions in the harshest ocean environments.

Saildrone missions are executed as a fully managed service from start to finish: They handle the transport of the saildrone to the area of operations, launch and retrieve the USV, and deliver high-resolution data in real-time and raw data post-mission.

The unmanned data-collecting sailboats are measuring the symptoms of climate change in the farthest reaches of the world’s oceans. Saildrone says it will soon deploy more seafaring bots than there are satellites in space.

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.

The Saildrone wing technology enables a mission duration of up to 12 months. Mission duration is only limited by bio-fouling (marine growth on the hull) in the tropics and mid-latitudes or the availability of light and icy conditions in high latitudes. An annual maintenance guarantees optimal data quality.

To further ensure safe operation, each USV is equipped with an automatic identification system (AIS) transceiver, navigation lights, radar reflector, high visibility wing colors, and four onboard cameras. Safety is a top priority, and Saildrone is proud of its strong track record of safe operations.

A Saildrone USV is significantly larger than it appears: Each vehicle consists of a narrow seven-meter-long hull, a five-meter-tall wing, and a keel with a 2.5-meter draft. Saildrone USVs weigh approximately 750 kilograms and can be launched and recovered from a dock.

Saildrone USVs are under the constant supervision of a human pilot via satellite and navigate autonomously from prescribed waypoint to waypoint, accounting for wind and currents, while staying within a user-defined safety corridor.

Saildrone’s patented propulsion system is the result of a 10-year research effort in high-performance land sailing and consists of a tall, hard wing, a longitudinal spar, and a vertical tail. A trim-tab on the tail adjusts the wing angle to the wind, like the way an elevator trim tab controls the pitch of an aircraft.

A Saildrone USV is significantly larger than it appears: Each vehicle consists of a narrow seven-meter-long hull, a five-meter-tall wing, and a keel with a 2.5-meter draft. Saildrone USVs weigh approximately 750 kilograms and can be launched and recovered from a dock.

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.

Jessica Cross, an oceanographer at the NOAA, is one of three principal investigators using the Saildrone (and other technologies) to study how the Arctic Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide and how that affects fish populations, the food chain, and subsistence and commercial fisheries. She says about 60 percent of the world’s commercial fishing is done in Alaska, which means the fish in these waters contribute to food security everywhere.

“We are collecting the best data we can to help us answer the critical questions,” says Cross. Among these questions, she includes, “What impacts do changes in the Arctic have on the large-scale climate and weather systems?” and “Will physical changes in the Arctic affect ecosystems that commercial and subsistence fisheries depend on?”

Saildrone’s Mission-as-a-Service provides users with a dedicated fleet of USVs to cost-effectively collect scientifically validated oceanic and atmospheric observations over extensive areas and extended periods of time.

A single mission can cover tens of thousands of miles and last up to 12 months. Each vehicle follows a user-defined mission plan, navigating autonomously from waypoint to waypoint without requiring any ship time.

The Saildrone core sensor suite can be enhanced with optional specialized sensors to address a wide variety of mission objectives.

Per SailDrone.com “We believe that better inputs in planetary models will yield better outputs and that new insights gained in weather forecasting, carbon cycling, global fishing, and climate change will have a tremendous impact on humanity.”

If you see some of their announcements, they are doing some cool things for the planet. Here are some you can see at SailDrone Press Releases

Some of the missions SailDrone can work with are:


Improve forecasting or satellite

Fish biomass

Manage sustainable fisheries


‍Measure ocean acidification

Oil detection

Detect and track oil seeps and spills

Animal tracking

Track tagged fish and mammals

Data relay

Harvest data from seabed sensors

Traffic monitoring

‍Monitor illegal traffic around sanctuaries


Accurate charting for safe navigation

The number of SailDrones currently at sea is 20, though the company hopes to reach 150 by the end of 2019.

We think SailDrone is on the right track of how it can help protect the oceans and ultimately our planet with its Data it collects.

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