As Hurricane Isaac moves into Louisiana, a little robot named Alex is swimming through the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico, helping collect information that will help predict future tropical storms. Alex is a Wave Glider robot that measures ocean temperatures up to a depth of 7 meters.

The robot was made by Liquid Robotics, and is the hundredth of its kind to be tested. By measuring water temperature, Alex can help predict the strength of hurricanes. Unlike current data, which is limited to the surface temperatures that airplanes and satellites can collect, Alex can dive into the water to gather more stable temperatures that can be more useful in making predictions. The robot also measures wind speed and other weather data, along with wave direction and height. As it lives in the Atlantic through this fall’s hurricane season, the data Alex collects will be fed into hurricane models so scientists can better understand how well it can improve forecasts. Liquid Robotics in working closely with NOAA on these tests.

Hurricane predictions have been steadily improving; now forecasters can understand the path of a storm as much as three days in advance. Even as recently as 2005, modeling was much less accurate: Experts expected Hurricane Rita to hit Houston, but the storm took a different path. Though the path of current hurricanes is now better understood, predicting intensity has been more of a challenge. The wave gliders should help solve that challenge. To date, wave gliders have logged over 100,000 miles of operations, and are in use in a number of industries, including fisheries and offshore oil fields.

Image by Liquid Robotics