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August 28, 2012

Hurricane Isaac vs. Alex the Robot

By now, we all know about Hurricane Isaac, which has threatened to wreak havoc on the lives of both politicians and real people. While the Republican National Convention now seems to be outside of the path of the storm, there is a very real chance that it will make landfall in the beleaguered city of New Orleans. The fact that we know all of this and can track the storm in a somewhat accurate fashion, is due, in part, to a brave little solar powered robot nicknamed Alex.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration launched the wave-hopping robot a few weeks ago in an effort to improve its hurricane tracking ability. Since the emergence of Tropical Storm Isaac, Alex has been tracking the storm as it moved north of Puerto Rico.

Storm image via Shutterstock

Alex tracks a variety of factors that contribute to hurricane conditions. One such factor is water temperature, which plays a big role in transforming a tropical storm into a hurricane. The robot measures ocean temperatures below the surface and, since it is unpiloted, it can enter conditions that would be far too dangerous for a human. The robot can remain at sea for months at a time, and it has extensive range.

The robot is powered by solar panels, which power its weather sensing devices, including a regular weather station and the below-water thermometer. In addition to monitoring hurricanes, Alex – and other robots like him – will be integral to keeping track of general ocean health, related to such phenomenon as algae blooms.

For now, though, the intrepid Alex will continue to report back on his current target, Isaac, as the storm heads toward the Gulf of Mexico. Hopefully, he will report back good news, and Isaac will result in little damage to people or property. Either way, the spunky little robot is doing his part for all of us!

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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli


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