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Consider a billionaire living on earth today. What would be the most effective way to deploy sensors to a vast area of the earth's sea depths? (Sea depths referring to the sea floor, and slightly above.)

As far as I can tell, the best modern technologies we have for autonomous underwater vehicles are underwater gliders and tethered remotely operated vehicles. Truly wireless vehicles also seem possible from what I've read, but storing enough power for such a vehicle seems to be the bottleneck.

Since this billionaire wants to deploy instruments to the deep sea, it seems impractical to use tethers to an above water platform, since you would need miles of cabling to the surface. I'm also not sure if the theory of underwater gliders holds up under the immense pressure at such depths. However, a true "rover" vehicle seems impossible, as you can't reliably transmit wirelessly underwater, also there doesn't seem to be a good way to power such a vehicle.

Obviously this billionaire is willing to put a lot of their money into this project, but they are not willing to risk their life/freedom, so they want to avoid any sort of environmental disaster.

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  • $\begingroup$ Its not clear what kind of sensors you are talking about here, we already put a lot of stuff down there. There are AUVs and hybrids that are able to explore Challenger Deep. Anchored moorings, underwater observatories. Profiling buoys that submerge, drift and re-emerge to transmit. Not counting the military stuff. A millionaire could also use a company that lay fiber-optic cables as a cover and lay strings of sensors at the same time.... also you don't need cables to surface, a cable to a sub or stations reachable by a sub could work $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren Mar 8 '16 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ What exactly do you want DONE with said underwater things? Should they just.... sit there? Rocks are good at sitting there. $\endgroup$ – iAdjunct Mar 9 '16 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't Elon Musk have enough on his plate already? $\endgroup$ – JesseTG Oct 9 '16 at 16:47
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Using current technology, the billionaire can simply buy Liquid Robotics (http://www.liquid-robotics.com) and Kongsberg subsea systems (http://www.km.kongsberg.com/ks/web/nokbg0240.nsf/AllWeb/EC2FF8B58CA491A4C1257B870048C78C), since they already have what you are looking for.

The "Seaglider" is a hydrodynamic vehicle which uses a combination of changing buoyancy and hydrofoil "wings" to move through the ocean.

Seaglider

While current versions are depth limited, there is no reason in theory that this technology cannot be extended upon to build vehicles capable of much deeper dives. The real issue would be powering the instrument packages and control system, but we can follow the example of NASA and incorporate a nuclear RTG power source. This provides a steady supply of energy without heavy or complex conversion systems, making it small and simple enough to fit aboard a reasonably sized sea glider derivative. For the Seaglider to operate at abyssal depths, one thing must be observed: the Seaglider cannot have large voids which can be compressed by the oceanic pressure. Even the "Swim bladder" which changes its buoyancy needs to be a bladder filled with some fluid (early bathyscaphes like the Trieste used a float filled with gasoline, for example).

bathyscaphe Trieste

The Wavegliders on the surface of the ocean can compliment the program through several avenues. Wavegliders need no motors for propulsion, so can operate with solar panels and batteries.

Waveglider

They can carry systems like sonars to observe the ocean depths, and can also act as relays for the Seagliders to send their information, as well as provide updated information to the seagliders (from GPS signals so they can update their current positions to amended programming for sensors or areas of coverage). If the Seagliders are bringing up samples, they can be delivered to Wavegliders for storage until someone comes to pick them up and take them to the lab.

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You have two main problems.

  1. Powering them
  2. Getting results out

Water makes both these difficult, but we're talking a lot of resources here so lets try something a bit different.

Create a passive sensor system (no ability to move) able to monitor the sea around it. Have it extend filaments into the water around it. The sensors sit on the bottom and water currents moving the filaments generate power that it uses to keep the sensors running.

The sensor set up a peer-to-peer network with the others around it and they then send their measurements out across the network until they find a network connection point that then relays it to the surface.

By mass producing millions of these packages at a low cost each you can just drop them randomly to saturate an entire area. So long as enough of them end up close enough to each other to form a network you then get complete monitoring of that area from simple and cheap sensors that are able to get by on the small amount of power the filaments can generate.

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Autonomous vehicles have a huge advantage when it comes to deep-sea diving compared to manned ones, as they don't have to carry any gasses. As liquids are virtually incompressible, oil-filled devices are virtually impervious to even the greatest pressures.

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