In a world-first, US scientists on Thursday piloted a camera-equipped ocean drone that looks like a robotic surfboard into a Category 4 hurricane barreling across the Atlantic Ocean. Dramatic footage released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed the small craft battling 50-feet (15 meters) high waves and winds of over 120 mph (190 kph) inside Hurricane Sam. The autonomous vehicle is called a Saildrone and was developed by a company with the same name.
Powered by wind and 23 feet (seven meters) in length, it carries a specially designed hurricane wing, designed to withstand punishing conditions as it collects data to help scientists learn more about one of Earth's most destructive forces. Saildrone's website indicates it can record measurements like wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, temperature, salinity, humidity, and more.
NOAA scientist Greg Foltz said, we expect to improve forecast models that predict the rapid intensification of hurricanes. Rapid intensification, when hurricane winds strengthen in a matter of hours, is a serious threat to coastal communities, and data collected from uncrewed systems will help improve models.
Scientists warn that climate change is warming the ocean and making hurricanes more powerful, posing an increasing risk to coastal communities.