Skip to Content

Ocean-faring Robot Cashes in on Offshore Oil and Gas

Liquid Robotics raised $45 million to build out its fleet of self-propelled marine robots.

Liquid Robotics is betting that autonomous vehicles will emerge as the best way to troll the oceans to gather data. 

Rugged: A Wave Glider half way on its trip from San Francisco to Japan. Credit: Liquid Robotics.

The Silicon Valley-based company yesterday raised $45 million in a series E round to grow the company’s sales and services around what it calls “high-value ocean data services” in research, defense, and oil and gas exploration.

Its Wave Glider marine robot, which resembles a stubby surfboard from below, can run for months to monitor ocean conditions, such as weather, current speed, and water temperature and salinity. Last December, it set a world record by completing a 9,000 nautical mile journal across the Pacific Ocean in a trip that lasted over a year. The company says it has over 150 deployed at sea.

Its data-gathering sensors, GPS, and on-board computers are powered by two standard solar panels attached to the board’s surface. Its ability to propel itself is done by a series of fins attached to a cable about 20 feet below the board. As the waves move up and down, the fins flex back and forth and move the vehicle forward. Because it’s connected to a satellite network, it can be piloted remotely.

The robots are used for taking marine data for researchers or to monitor locations, such as harbors, for security. Liquid Robotics has also found a willing audience of customers in the oil and gas industry to aid in offshore exploration. Last year, the company set up a joint venture with Schlumberger called Liquid Robotics Oil and Gas based in Houston, Texas. 

Torpedo-shaped remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) have been used with people on ships for years to survey undersea regions before drilling or to monitor equipment, such as pipelines. The Wave Glider is less expensive to operate, since it doesn’t require a boat to be deployed, and can operate for longer periods, the company says. Its sensors can gather oceanographic data, such as wave height, and detect seeps of existing wells.

In the field of scientific research, too, the Wave Glider’s ability to roam autonomously for months without having to refuel could transform how oceanographic experiments are conducted, since battery life on AUVs is a serious limitation. But given the deep pockets of the oil and gas industry, autonomous marine robots may find their biggest customer surveying the seas for drillers.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.