(Popular Mechanics) Last fall Rutgers University ocean researcher Oscar Schofield headed a collaborative experiment called Gliderpalooza, which coordinated 15 aquatic, submersible research drones to sample the deep waters off the coastal Atlantic. About 5 feet long and shaped like tomahawk missiles, the gliders beam home their data every time they surface. The propellerless drones, jam-packed with scientific instruments, swim by changing their buoyancy—taking on and expelling a soda can’s worth of water to sink and float. And they navigate under the waves by themselves. “The gliders are autonomous, so you just throw them in the water and off they go,” Schofield says, though they can also take directions from operators when they surface.

With this robotic flotilla—part of the new wave of ocean-going drones—Schofield and his colleagues could gather a detailed picture of the ocean’s temperature, currents, wildlife, and water quality at depths up to 650 feet. But even as ocean researchers use these gliders to track fish and help predict storms, the drones have attracted another admirer—the U.S. Navy.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.