Environmental Protection

Ocean Data Collection Easier with Robotic Probe Launcher

WHOI engineers created an advanced robotic auto-launcher system in order to systematically collect ocean data more efficiently and effectively.

In order to collect ocean data, scientists rely on certain tools, such as the eXpendable BathyThermograph (XBT) probe, which is used by hand and has its fair share of shortcomings. In order to deal with the proble,, David Fratantoni, associate scientist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and a team of engineers created a robotic auto-launcher system.

For the past five years, the team has been working on the project and developed the Autonomous eXpendable Instrument System (AXIS) that contains up to a dozen XBT probes and can be programmed to release a probe and a specific time and/or location.

“The big step was it’s robotic: one launcher, one set of contacts for the probes, and a bunch of machinery that would move new, fresh probes into place. That was really different,” Fratantoni said. “One of the major features of AXIS is it’s completely self-contained and self-powered. It has its own communications system, doesn’t require any wires, cables, or computers on the ship.”

Since using AXIS, the team has experienced an improvement in ocean observations of the Gulf Stream while also reducing the workload at sea.

“It gives us unfettered access to a potential research fleet many, many times larger than the actual academic research fleet. There’s no reason why every container ship in the world couldn’t have one of these,” added Fratantoni.

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