A small southern Arizona company is making waves around the world. Hydronalix is designing remote-controlled, unmanned boats that are changing the way the world looks at the seas, and at hurricanes.
What these boats are being developed to do is expected to save lives and money, and we could see them in action very soon.
They might not be huge -- in fact, they're tiny -- but the information they some day might provide will be monumental.
"It's to protect people and property," explains Hydronalix Vice President of Ocean and Marine Sensing Rori Marston.
Hydronalix is headquartered in Sahuarita, just south of Tucson.
It has a contract with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to use the unmanned boats to help learn to predict hurricane behavior.
NOAA scientists need key information, no one has now.
"A hurricane can go from a category one to a category three in 16 hours in an unpredictable way," says Dr. Russ Chadwick of NOAA.
The hope is that the technology-filled boats will give NOAA what it needs to predict that sudden change.
"Save lives, give better, shorter warning times for hurricane intensification. That's the key item. Shorter warning times," says Chadwick.
Sounds easy enough, but we're talking about sending the boats into hurricanes.
"What we're going to have to be able to do is sustain and go through very high winds, very rough seas. It's got to go for half-a-dozen or more days, and we have to be able to control it from satellites and from ground," Marston says.
So far, NOAA has provided $300,000 for the project.
The scientists say a call to evacuate brings costs of about one million dollars per mile of coastline.
Call it wrong, and it's money that could have been spent someplace else.
"On the other hand, if you don't evacuate enough coastal area, you've got a hazard to coastal residents," says Chadwick.
He says with proper funding, in just a few years, scientists could have the data they need to quickly and accurately predict what a hurricane will do.
For now, testing the boats will be moving from lakes to the hazards of the ocean.
The hurricane boats are not the only way Hydronalix is making a name for itself.
Its high-tech boats also can be used to reel in ocean-going fish poachers, and to map the bottoms of bodies of water. They've even found sunken ships.
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