Data Xplorer is a solar powered ocean drone, also called an uncrewed surface vehicle (USV). Powered by the sun, it can travel on the ocean for months at a time collecting ocean and environmental data using its suite of sensors. It sends this information back in real-time through secure communication systems and clients can control the USV from anywhere in the world using our user portal. Capable of travelling in both coastal and open-ocean waters, and with a customizable platform for multiple sensor integration, it offers the ability to understand our oceans in a whole new way.
Data Xplorer is designed to endure all sea states and is self righting. Top speed with the standard motor is eight knots. An interchangeable pod motor system allows motors to be swapped in minutes, with the most powerful motor capable of moving at 18 knots. Despite having powerful capabilities, this USV is remarkably light and portable, weighing just over 100 kg. A modular battery compartment allows configurations of 3.5, 7.0, and 10.5 kWh.
- Data Xplorer can be easily deployed from a boat launch ramp and autonomously driven to its mission site, whether that’s just along the coast or thousands of miles away in the middle of the ocean. When the mission is done, Data Xplorer will pilot itself home for retrieval. Transporting it is also easy. It’s light enough to be carried by two people and can be moved on a trailer or in the back of a truck.
- This USV was made to endure the unforgiving conditions of the ocean. It is self-righting and heavily ruggedized so that it can withstand repeated capsizes. Both the rudder and motor are protected by our unique keel system to protect from entanglement or impact. The heavily-reinforced keel is as shallow as possible so the vessel can travel in waters of limited depth. Redundant systems and a plethora of system-health sensors keep the boat operating reliably and the remote operator fully informed. Electronics and processors are housed in dual redundant waterproof containers for the ultimate protection from salt water.
- Data Xplorer can be precisely controlled to stay on the desired route, conduct a grid survey or loiter in place. Its electric pod motor and advanced lithium ion battery storage system allows energy to be intelligently deployed, ensuring that the USV is always under control. Its speed is also highly controllable, allowing optimal speeds for data collection and burst speeds to overcome currents or keep pace with tracked targets. Using an exchangeable pod motor system, the USV can travel up to 18 knots for short-term missions or can run at a more efficient two knots for long-duration missions of up to six months. The full keel provides excellent tracking in big waves, while still allowing nimble maneuverability.
- Capable of travelling continuously for up to six months, Data Xplorer offers the opportunity to collect data for an extended period of time and voyage to the most remote parts of our oceans. Every element of this USV has been designed for endurance. Its systems are extremely energy efficient and the USV’s streamlined shape maximizes its speed with minimal power. Components are all designed to be maintenance free for extended periods and superior anti-fouling methods reduce the impact of biofouling on the USV and sensors.
Data Xplorer has been optimized to host a broad range of sensors. Standard environmental sensors in all boats include 360 degree cameras, weather station (wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, and air temperature), triducer (depth, water temperature, and speed relative to water) and wave sensor. The vessel also has an AML sensor bay, which allows for a large variety oceanographic sensors, such as chlorophyll, turbidity, salinity, dissolved oxygen, to be installed. An optional transducer mount allows the integration of a multibeam depth sounder, ADCP or side scan sonar. Additional sensors that can be outfitted include radar, thermal cameras, hydrophone arrays and much more.
So how long can Data Xplorer operate for? This depends on solar conditions, sea state, operating speed, sensor power consumption, and many other factors, however, it is possible to operate indefinitely if solar input is balanced with output. To move at two knots in calm conditions the thrust motor consumes 26 watts, and additional supporting electronics and processors can be brought down to between 5 and 10 watts. This means the vessel can travel a distance of about 48 nautical miles in a day using exclusively solar power (with reasonable solar conditions). Additionally, power consumption can be further reduced by spending more time loitering, or planning missions to move with prevailing winds and currents. The 300 Watt solar array can be expected to bring in 500-1500 Watt hours per day in spring, summer and fall conditions. While the vessel can operate continuously for months, eventually biofouling will limit performance and control. At six months, it is recommended to bring the vessel in for cleaning and servicing.
While slow travel and loitering can significantly extend the length of a mission, voyaging at higher speeds or using power-hungry sensors will significantly reduce overall longevity. To move the vessel at eight knots requires 1100 Watts and 4000 Watts to move at 18 knots. The 10.5 kWh battery will be depleted in about 2.5 hours when moving at 18 knots. For multibeam bathymetric surveying with power hungry, high-drag equipment, the vessel will operate for 25-40 hours moving at 2.5-3 knots. For our Canadian operations, speed is software limited to 3.9 knots to comply with UK MASS regulations for categorization as an Ultralight MASS.
The foil-shaped instrument bar at the back of the boat does much more than support sensors and antennas. In fact, its primary purpose is to assist with self-righting of the vessel. This patent-pending system uses the principal of buoyancy to increase vessel instability when in the inverted position. This means we don’t need to strap a big chunk of lead to the keel of the boat, making for a lighter and more efficient vessel. The roll/instrument bar serves two other purposes. It makes the boat much more visible from a distance reducing the chance of collisions, and it also allows observers or operators to clearly see the orientation of the vessel in rough waters when the rest of the vessel is obscured behind waves. This is particularly useful when remotely piloting the vessel into shore in rough conditions
The weight of the batteries also assists with self righting and enhances overall stability. As seen in the video below, the vessel has an extremely high level of primary and secondary stability. The full keel and relatively flat hull helps dampen rolling motion, which is helpful for running sensors that require a greater degree of stability.
Rough oceans are a dangerous place for humans, and a key design consideration was creating a vessel that can safely gather data in all sea states. How can such tiny boats weather storms as powerful as a hurricane? Picture a bottle with a cork in it. As long as the bottle doesn’t break, it will be able to ride out the most heinous of sea states. Our vessels are essentially self-righting bottles, able to bounce and tumble through the biggest of waves. But our USVs are able to do more than just weather rough seas, they can also maintain control and make way in extreme sea states and winds. The full keel provides excellent directional stability and resists sideslip, while the over-sized rudder provides extra turning power when required. Additionally, the deck and foil-shaped roll bar are aerodynamically shaped to reduce drag in windy conditions. Center of windage and center of lateral resistance are perfectly balanced so the USV has neither lee helm nor weather helm in heavy winds.