The Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging submersible, nicknamed SOLO-TREC, uses a thermal recharging engine powered by the natural temperature differences found at different ocean depths.
"Scalable for use on most robotic oceanographic vehicles, this technology breakthrough could usher in a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles capable of virtually indefinite ocean monitoring for climate and marine animal studies, exploration and surveillance," officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said.
Scientists from JPL, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California-San Diego developed the prototype vehicle.
"People have long dreamed of a machine that produces more energy than it consumes and runs indefinitely," said Jack Jones, a JPL engineer and SOLO-TREC co-principal investigator. "While not a true perpetual motion machine, since we actually consume some environmental energy, the prototype system demonstrated by JPL and its partners can continuously monitor the ocean without a limit on its lifetime imposed by energy supply."
Co-principal investigator Yi Chao of JPL noted most of Earth is covered by ocean, yet we know less about the ocean than we do about the surface of some planets.
"This technology … will have huge implications for how we can measure and monitor the ocean and its influence on climate," Chao said.