And it's the lattermost pursuit that will see a small fleet of unmanned surface vehicles deliberately head into hurricane territory.
San Francisco's Saildrone first blipped on our radar back in 2018, when Australian research agency CSIRO made use of a trio of the 23-ft-long (7-m), sensor-packed Explorer vessels to explore the Southern Ocean. Earlier this year, a much bigger sibling called Saildrone Surveyor was added to the fleet – with the 72-ft (22-m) drone tasked with mapping the sea floor of the deep ocean.
Both Saildrones are propelled by the wind, with the energy needed to power onboard electronics coming from solar panels. They can operate by remote control or autonomously along prescribed waypoints, and can remain on mission for up to 12 months at a time. The company offers the vessels as MAAS (Mission-as-a-Service) or DAAS (Data-as-a-Service) solutions, and they've already logged over 500,000 nautical miles in the Arctic, Antarctica, Pacific, Atlantic, and coastal areas.
This latest iteration will be sent on a fact-finding mission to the Atlantic during hurricane season. But instead of trying to gather data from afar, these five intrepid Saildrones will head straight for hurricane weather systems, where they will likely encounter winds of more than 70 mph (110 km/h) and waves over 10 ft (3 m), in order to provide researchers with the real-time observations needed to construct more accurate prediction models.
Members of the small fleet of Saildrone Explorers have been equipped with ruggedized 16.5-ft (5-m) "hurricane wings" to keep them operational as they head into the very heart of the hurricanes. This follows five months of testing and tweaking during winter storms in the North Pacific.