I never thought I would find Blackbeard in a garage at East Carolina University.
To be clear, that’s Blackbeard the wave glider.
“This is the most tricked out wave glider in the world,” explains Roger Rulifson, Ph.D., a Distinguished Professor of Biology at East Carolina University. “It can measure weather at the ocean surface, wave heights, water circulation pattern under the glider and all the way to the bottom.”
And that’s just the start of what this instrument can do. It can also listen for fish and turtles that are tagged with tracking devices, as well as listen and record any noise in the ocean, including dolphins clicking, snapping shrimp, red drum drumming, and whales humming.
Blackbeard is about the size of a large surfboard. It’s top is covered with solar panels and there are several antennas mounted in between the panels, as well as a box for a GPS system and another box for a computer control system. The wave glider is a satellite connected, instrument laden, ocean-going science robot.
So how does this ocean-going robot surf the waves to gather its data? For starters, a long cable connects the wave glider to what appears to be a giant aluminum window blind with levers. This is what pulls Blackbeard. It’s an underwater paddle that opens and closes its levers for propulsion. Combined with the movement of the waves on the surface, there’s enough power to slowly tow the wave glider.