James Gosling, known as 'the father of Java', is working on an ambitious project involving semi-autonomous robots, the internet of things, and the world's oceans.
"My current gig is about building systems and solving problems in an extreme fashion," said Gosling, who earlier in his talk at the IPExpo conference in London criticised cloud vendors for attempting to lock in their customers.
He is now working with Liquid Robotics, the organisation that is responsible for building the Wave Glider, a semi-autonomous robot which swims oceans gathering data and communicating via satellite.
"We do an industrial-grade version of IoT," said Gosling. "Our marine robots are out now wandering the oceans. You can strap on some sensors, and they can be what you want them to be. There are solar cells on top with masts and weather stations. There's a satellite antenna, and another AIS [Automatic Identification System] antenna for ships' beacons. It's basically a data centre rack that's designed to be immersed in salt water."
The need for the equipment to survive the sea has presented Liquid Robotics with many challenges.
"Building things to survive salt water is amazing. It's different because the software is definitely not the hard part in this project," he said.
"In most places for the people who do mechanical engineering, it's just bending sheet metal around a hard chassis. But here it's about building things that survive and continue to function in the middle of a category-four hurricane. There's lots of titanium and exotic components in this thing."
The Wave Glider gets all its energy from solar cells, and most of its thrust from bouncing up and down in waves.
"We've never found a good, robust way to get electric power out of wave action. So we make do with the thrust from wave action, which works everywhere except the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of summer," said Gosling.
The Glider tows instruments behind it, and has a "sinister torpedo type of look" in Gosling's words, though it carries nothing more dangerous than scientific monitors.
Describing its uses, Gosling explained that some countries have large exclusion zones around their waters. The UK has responsibility for a number of Pacific islands, including Pitcairn Island.
"It's a rather bizarre country or protectorate. It has an enormous exclusion zone which is theoretically patrolled by the UK, but no one has the resources to do that because it's gigantic. So we did a bunch of testing exercises, sending a Wave Glider and going around the island, finding poachers and sending back information," he explained.
Another use case is to produce a self-installing weather buoy. A standard buoy is large and heavy, with a bulky selection of machinery and instruments sitting on top of the flotation device. They're expensive, principally due to the installation costs.
"A ship that can go into the ocean costs as much as $150,000 (£123,000) per day and it can take 10 days to install or repair. But with our version you just throw it into the ocean and it swims out. It takes around a month to swim from Hawaii to Pitcairn Island, but it works. And instead of a load of bulky equipment on top, it just has a small ball of sensors which do the same thing," said Gosling.
The Wave Glider can also perform pollution monitoring, acting as a gateway between satellite networks and the sea floor.
"With submersibles and tsunami sensors, there are no good communication paths back to shore," he said. "If you try to do it with a piece of wire, you end up with one that's 1,000km long and will break. But ours just swims out and around day after day because it doesn't get bored. After six months it swims back and another swims out, and we repair and clean up the first one. It communicates via an old-style acoustic modem backup to base."
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