There are thousands of underwater drones quietly scurrying around in our oceans and helping to reveal an underwater world which, up until now, has remained 95 percent unexplored. Already, it’s started to reveal some of the weird and wonderful stuff that’s been hidden away in the depths.
These unmanned underwater vehicles have been around since the 1960s. They used to be a kind of rich person’s toy, used for ambitious projects like the exploration of the underwater wreck of the Titanic in 1985. The military has also developed drones with similar abilities to their flying counterparts – reconnaissance and missile attacks.
But as the technology has become more affordable, private companies have now started to find new uses for these aquatic robots. Whereas the old submersibles were the size of a bus, these newer drones are typically the size of a football – much faster and lighter.
With cameras, sensors and robot arm attachments, they’re being used to carry out the kind of risky tasks that used to require specialist divers. They’re commonly used for inspecting oil rigs, monitoring fish farms and, best of all, finding treasure.
With entry level costs being around £3,000, searching for underwater wrecks is no longer something only the super-rich can afford. Treasure hunters trawl through old newspaper reports and maritime records to look for information on old wreckages that may help them locate some loot.
If they hit lucky, the rewards can be amazing. In 2007 an American team used remote controlled drones to find a £250million stash of gold coins hidden in a wreckage off the coast of Cornwall.
The technology is also helping to reveal other hidden treasures with drones able to methodically scan the ocean floor in the style of a mower cutting a lawn. It has helped lead to discoveries like the huge underwater Tamu Massif volcano in the Pacific Ocean, which is the size of Britain and Ireland.
But the world of underwater drones also carries a few risks. One of the problems is maintaining communication with the devices through the deeper seas, a team of Canadian researchers recently lost a £120,000 vehicle into the murky depths.
And that’s not to mention shark attacks; there have been a number of reports of drone being bashed and bitten by the ocean’s deadliest predator.