Solar-powered robots could unlock the ocean’s deepest mysteries

Photo credit: Nature Photonics (2023).

Did you know that we have only explored about 5% of the world’s oceans?

There’s so much we don’t know, and one reason is the lack of long-lived power for underwater robots.

But NYU Tandon scientists may have a solution: solar power. Let’s examine how sunlight could help robots explore the mysteries of the ocean.

The power problem

Normally, underwater robots, so-called Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROUVs), are powered by batteries.

However, the batteries don’t last long and the robots have to be charged.

It’s like having a flashlight that turns itself off just as you’re about to uncover hidden treasure.

Why not use sunlight?

Sunlight actually penetrates quite deep into the ocean – up to 50 meters! So why not use this natural, always available energy to power our underwater equipment?

The scientists, including Jason A. Röhr and André Taylor, are trying to figure out how this works.

Current solar cells are not enough

The problem is that our current solar technology is not designed for use underwater. Solar panels absorb types of light that don’t penetrate deep into the water.

Also, salt water and things like algae can harm them. Imagine trying to read a book underwater with sunglasses – it just doesn’t work.

New materials to the rescue

To address these issues, the team is testing new materials that could make underwater solar cells effective.

Some options like gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) and cadmium telluride (CdTe) show promise.

They are better at absorbing the types of light that get underwater. Researchers are also looking at newer solar cell technologies, such as organic solar cells and perovskite solar cells, which may be better suited to marine conditions.

challenges and tests

However, there are still challenges. A big problem is “biofouling,” a fancy word for tiny plants and animals clinging to underwater surfaces. This can block sunlight and render solar cells unusable.

And testing these solar cells is difficult. The ocean is a rough place and not everyone has easy access to it for experimentation. But the scientists found a workaround: They use LED lights to simulate the light of the ocean. So they can test the cells anywhere.

The big picture

While we are still in the early stages, this research could lead to incredible discoveries. Imagine underwater robots that can explore deeper, stay down longer, and bring back valuable information.

Solar energy could even be combined with other technologies like Oceanic Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) to make the robots even more efficient.

These advances could give us a fuller picture of the mysterious world beneath the sea.

Thanks to these scientists and their work on solar energy, we may be on the verge of unlocking the ocean’s deepest mysteries. Isn’t that exciting?

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Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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