A human-free autonomous boat known as the Saildrone Surveyor has successfully sailed from San Francisco to Hawaii to cross the Pacific Ocean while mapping the topography of the seabed, an achievement made less than a month after a similar IBM-powered boat failed.
The Saildrone Surveyor, 22 metres long and and weighing 12,700 kilograms, sailed 2,250 nautical miles over 28 days to map 6,400 nautical miles of seafloor. The project is the largest attempt yet to map Earth’s undersea landscape; we have mapped the Moon more than our planet’s deep oceans.
The boat uses a 360o camera to record its surroundings. These images are then processed by GPUs running computer-vision neural networks to detect objects, Saildrone said.
There are several other types of sensors onboard, ranging from radar to infrared to navigate in the dark, and it is powered by wind and solar energy. Saildrone trained its machine-learning systems on data recorded from sailing journeys stretching a total of over 500,000 nautical miles across 13,000 days at sea.
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