Just how "autonomous" is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) really? In the case of Spray, a sleek, torpedo-like glider designed by Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) and WHOI engineers, pretty darn so.
In 2004, the bright red glider earned accolades for becoming the first robot to successfully traverse the raging Gulf Stream. Launched from southern Massachusetts in September, Spray reached Bermuda in less than two months, puttering along at an average speed of 12 miles a day. The whole time, it was busily collecting troves of oceanographic data that it would transmit back to its human masters at WHOI and Scripps.
One day, oceanographers hope Spray and other gliders will be able to roam the oceans at will, providing an almost limitless supply of data that could be used to build more sophisticated climate models and develop better weather forecasts.