Together, the four have struggled through heavy seas and against tempestuous squalls to break the Guinness Book of World Records listing for distance by an unmanned, wave-powered vehicle, according to Liquid Robotics [PDF].
Their current journey, the PacX Challenge, takes them on a voyage across the Pacific that will ultimately cover 9,000 nautical miles, some of it into formerly uncharted territory.
The first leg of their trip, to Hawaii, is 3,200 nautical miles, breaking a previous world record of 2,500 nautical miles.
One member of the group, called Papa Mau, or “the Way Finder,” was named after the Micronesian navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug, who died in 2010 and whose fame lives on as the master seaman of traditional, instrument-free navigation of the seas using the sun, stars, winds and clouds.
Put out to sea on Nov. 17, 2011, the four robotic navigators passed safely through 26-foot seas in powerful, gale force winds—those measured on the Beaufort scale as 8 to 9 (the equivalent of about 24.5 miles per second), the company said.
True to its name, Papa Mau alone was coming in to Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island without instruments due to satellite communications failure. In spite of that, Papa Mau was said to be on target using only originally programmed coordinates and star navigation!
After a brief rest while Liquid Robotics specialists examine the wave-powered robots’ guidance and navigations systems, the four hardy ocean voyagers will again put out to sea, crossing the 36,201-foot deep Mariana Trench and fighting against the Kuroshio Current as they head for Japan. A second team will cross the equator heading for Australia. Landfall is expected late this year or early in 2013.
More important than winning, though, is the proof that unmanned, wave-powered vehicles can successfully navigate the previously inaccessible stretches of water, providing yet another dataset for monitoring the health of the world’s oceans.