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Ocean drone captures video from inside a hurricane (noaa.gov)
711 points by duck on Oct 1, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 174 comments

The date of the video is the most impressive to me here. It says “Sept. 30, 2021” both as the date of the article and the date of the video. If this is not a mistake that means they managed to deliver the video from the hurricane to the internet in less than 24 hours.

Why is this impressive? Either they beamed it out through satelites, which is notoriously hard from an unstable platform on big waves, or they recovered the saildrone and obtained the footage directly which is equally impressive in or around a hurricane.

All around if the dating of the footage is correct it is very impressive to me.

Based on the photo from the NASA website ([1]), they use a Thales Satellite modem ([2]). My best guess it's VesseLINK 700 ([3]) that uses Iridium Certus constellation ([4]) and costs around $8K ([5]).

Key Features:

* Robust, Light-Weight Communications for at Sea Operations

* Certus 700 Services (352 kbps Up/704 kbps Down & 256 kbps Streaming Capable)

*100% Global Satellite Coverage and Low Latency for Critical Data and Voice Communications

1. https://blogs.nasa.gov/earthexpeditions/wp-content/uploads/s...

2. https://www.thalesgroup.com/en/markets/market-specific-solut...

3. https://www.thalesgroup.com/sites/default/files/database/doc...

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iridium_satellite_constellatio...

5. https://seatech.systems/product/thales-vesselink-700-for-iri...

I would bet that modem is using a phased antenna array [1] (I'm guessing this is what "solid state, no moving parts" means on the product page). With the right sensors (gyros, etc), a solid-state system like that should be able to keep a pretty tight lock on the satellite even in the roughest conditions.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phased_array

Look at the Terminal Equipment tab of this page linked below. It shows the Cobham ( different manufacturer from Thales) antenna for the same satellite service. It looks like it is a set of six or so patch antennas. It's not clear if it is switching between patches or combining the signals to/from the patches. If the latter, it is indeed a phased array. That seems likely because the other manufacturer, Intellian, describes their antenna as a 12-element phased array. I'm guessing the Thales also uses a phased array.


It's great tech. Same next generation Iridium network is used for offshore maritime, aviation, land mobile data, etc. Lots of places where a traditional two way VSAT is much too large. Its main market competition is the INMARSAT I-4 and I-5 series satellites and BGAN network.

The main problem with it is the very high dollars per megabyte cost. If you're a billionaire or a nation state with a $30 million Gulfstream jet and an Iridium terminal on it you probably don't care. But it can be cost prohibitive for any appreciable amount of data transfer from remote scientific systems.

Jeez. When I work with Iridium I'm constrained to 300 byte messages (for budgetary reasons).

Yes, me too. But Iridium recently (2017-2018) launched the new constellation that they call Iridium NEXT which supports L-Band and offers significantly more bandwidth. So, it's now possible to get a 1GB plan for ~$1300/month ([2]). This obvisouly means that one needs to use a different modem. RockBLOCK modems are great but limited to the Iridium "Classic" with these tight limits and insane prices (~$1/KB).

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iridium_satellite_constellatio...

2. https://www.satphonestore.com/tech-browsing/satellite-intern...

This is using the next-generation Iridium network which is capable and marketed for offshore maritime, for aviation purposes, land mobile data, land based portable terminals (where people would previously need an INMARSAT BGAN), etc.

It is still very costly on a dollars per MB of data transferred basis.

Per this little video, the Thales Vessel link does some 350kbs uplink and downlink.


Damnit, this is why love HN.

If someone comes along with a plan and budget for 10K drones does the system have spare capacity ?!

at 8000 each for hardware, that's 80 Million, plus the data plan charges for each line.

With that amount of money I'm sure the system would be able to grow to accommodate (including sending up more satellites) if only to make sure the money doesn't go to another competitor.

Just stick a Starlink antenna on it, dummies. /s

Noting the satire marker, I’ll just say for completeness: Starlink consumes 100W continuously to operate its phased array beam and the computation requires to drive it. That’s too much power for a sail drone.

It's really not. Assuming your power source has the required amperage, short, infrequent bursts are much more effective than continuous operation. In embedded systems, it's all about duty cycle, and by that metric, Starlink blows the Thales modem out of the water.

The Thales VesseLink modem they used consumes 65W nominal/120W maximum. It offers a connection speed of a couple hundred kbps, so sending up a video file of a fixed size will require it to be on for quite a while - Assuming 200 kbps average, and a 360 MB video, that's 4 hours of uploading or 260 Watt-hours. Also, it's 12x9x2", and weighs 7.5 lbs; this is a boat not a hobby quadcopter. 260 Watt-hours is a lot; that's like 3 laptop batteries, but that's still smaller than the modem itself.

Starlink does consume 100W, but offers a connection speed of about 200 Mbps. The 360 MB video upload could complete in 14.4 seconds, which consumes 100 W * 14.4 seconds / 3600 seconds/hour = 0.4 Watt-hours. It is significantly larger, and it would probably have a harder time handling rough seas (not to mention saltwater intrusion), but that's a lot less power.

Whichever modem you're using, you'd want to turn it on infrequently.

Edit: The Saildrone product brief is here:


It describes a 23' or 7m boat. The 33'/10m larger version has 300W continuous sensor power/2kW peak available from the solar panels, which appear to be of a comparable size to those on the Saildrone.

Oh, on second thought this boat is a beast. It has a 75 HP diesel engine in it, along with the solar panels. It can surely crank out 100W continuously forever. Sadly, Starlink is not for mobile use.

Starlink will be available for marine uses: https://www.pcmag.com/news/spacex-preps-ruggedized-starlink-...

It will be a life-changing event for maritime robotics, assuming they don't get too greedy.

This particular saildrone seems to be a larger model: 72' long.

I always thought /s was 'sarcastic'. And, oh so very often, very not needed.

Just harvest the hurrican’s windpower /s

Can't we use these giant fans to blow the hurricane away?

/s because I am serious

Simply blow against the wind with equal force and hurricane will become neutralized.

/super cereal

I was just thinking to myself that maybe it's my age or something but the fact that I am sat a thousand miles away watching a video, on my phone, from inside a hurricane that was recorded, edited, and published all in less than a day, is one of those "I'm living in the future, aren't I?" Moments.

One thing I usually highlight about the Moon Landing (1969) is that the delivered not just people on the moon, but it was broadcast live!

We can still appreciate that as a mind-blowing achievement! And it might put a damper on the enthusiasm for a delayed video of a wet drone.. :)

Up until recently there were more people on moon than single handed non stop circumnavigations

I find this hard to believe. There have must've been 1-2 dozen solo circumnavigators in the 70's already.. how many people have been on the moon? quick search Apparently only 12 people have walked on the moon (24 total have "been to the moon")and I'd venture a guess that we hit that amount of solo circumnavigators in the 60's already thanks to the OSTAR.

Watching dashcam video footage of the Chelyabinsk meteorite a few hours after it had first been reported, on my smartphone, sitting in the garage after a grocery run, was it for me.

Watching it live was more impressive than videos, and the BOOM was really shaking.

(I actually live in Chelyabinsk)

I prefer living in my future at a distance ;-)

That must have been absolutely amazing.

Did you see the initial airburst itself? What were your thoughts / how would you describe your reaction as the event unfolded?

I saw part of the burst and to me it was immediately clear what it was. Also, the timing of the boom arrival helped determine the distance with good precision.

Thoughts, 'WOW', 'COOL', 'Did somebody film that??', and, of course, the rest of the workday was not very productive. It was nice to see that so much footage made.

One thing footage doesn't show is, however, the heat: the radiation was intense and open parts of the skin did feel hot, like , REALLLY BURNING HOT. Had it lasted longer, there would be burns on everybody.

I've seen estimates of the Chelyabinsk energy yield at about 500 kT TNT equivalent. How that was distributed as light, shock wave, and thermal energy (latter coupled with light) has been something I'd wondered at, and your comment on the heat is interesting.

I'd think that a larger impactor or one that survived further into Earth's atmosphere (and closer to the surface) might have changed that experience markedly. You're informing my own advice-to-self as to how to respond should I see a very large airburst at some point. "Stay away from glass" was already part of that, as well as "expect the shockwave after about 90 seconds". I think I'll add "avoid direct thermal exposure if it looks to be large" to the list.

If you've not already seen the Sandia Labs modelling based on the 1908 Tunguska event, the shockwave dynamics suggest to me why and how the multiple shockwave arrivals at a given point on the ground occur:


Particularly this simulation: http://www.sandia.gov/videos2007/2007-6514Pfire.hv1.1.mpg

Nukemap has settings for airburst height (under "advanced options"): https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/

For a 10mt explosion at 20km height it shows a third degree burn radius of 27km. Chelyabinsk was ~0.5kt at 29km. Larger objects are expected to penetrate further into the atmosphere before exploding: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteor_air_burst

I'm not sure how much time you'd have to evaluate size or distance, videos of Chelyabinsk show it pretty bright just a second or two after becoming visible. Length of infrared exposure determines severity of burn, so reacting early is helpful.

"Resist the urge to stare at it through the window"

The one reason Halifax has such a large amount of expertise on eye surgery was people not resisting that urge.

That was 191x. And still translates to experience/quality/clustering of eye surgery there?

I'm unaware of something like that in locations which suffered from large explosions around a similar timeframe.

From 1917?

"Do not look into laser with remaining eye."

"Do not gaze upon meteorite armageddon through window with remaining face."

If you are serious about that, you'll need to retrain one of your instincts — there is a nearly reflexive response to orient towards a new or bright flash of light. In normal situations, this is highly adaptive. However, in raare events like meteors, nuclear or other really large explosions, it results in literally frying the retinas before the viewer has time to sort out what is happening, nevermind judging whether it "looks to be large".

You'll need to retrain your instincts to instantly close your eyes and flinch away in response to bright light, then judge the "looks to be large (or not)" through your closed eyelids. This should work fine as I remember reading that some observers of the Trinity nuclear test blast saw the bones of their hands through their closed and covered eyes...

Alternatively, make a habit of wearing welding glasses with 100% UV protective glass that will auto-darken to Shade 14++

&yes, those Sandia Labs simulations are really amazing!

There's some trainability.

If you're close enough to a fireball that you're instantly incinerated, you might as well just enjoy the show. There's nothing you can do.

If you're within the zone of survivability, then there's cause to take action, and responses over seconds, minutes, and hours can make a difference. A 20--30 mile airburst gives 2--3 minutes before he

The prompt heat flash lasts several seconds. Ducking and sheltering quickly behind any shading barrier will provide protection. Infrared is no penatrating radiation. And bollides as blackbody emitters release mostly IR and visible light. Short-term flash-blindness, likely, permanent blindness ... probably not?

Blast effects lag blast by seconds to minutes. A 20--30 mi altitude bollide burst (32--48km) gives 2--3 minutes before the blast will hit.

Fragments might be another risk. Again, they'll lag considerably and arrive with fairly low terminal velocity for any likely impactor.

TL;DR: Killing effects cover several modalities and don't arrive instantaneously or simultaneously.

Oh, yes, there absolutely is trainablity, you just need to do the training as it's against 'natural' orientation instincts.

Totally agree on the survivability. While most ppl just immediately think 'it's a nuke/meteorite, you're just fried', even a quick look will show that the lower effects zone is at least 10x the area of the 'you're fried' zone.

So yes, just instantly closing your eyes & looking away, stepping away from the window, behind a tree or lamppost, etc. can do a lot in the first 5 seconds, then using the next 10sec that get behind something to be on the leeward side of the shockwave, and you'll be way ahead of the situation. Probably best measure is to avoid important cities.

In my case, it was seeing the photos of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9's [1] impact with Jupiter on the web very soon after the impact date (latency was but a few days if memory serves, date was July 1994).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_Shoemaker%E2%80%93Levy_9

There were some earlier moments for me as well.

Being impacted by the Morris Worm, and having a (text-based) copy of the Pons-Fleischman paper, both circa 1988, via the uni Unix server, was pretty cool.

But Chelyabinsk was a massively-shared instance, where a random news event in a place that was absolutely not a media centre, was still accessible in very short order with multiple coverages.

Sci-Hub / LibGen give a similar feeling, though in a different sense. Wells's World Brain and Bush's Memex, delivered. Even if the Establishment is being dragged kicking and screaming.

My wife was hiking in the high mountains here in Oregon, above 2000 meters, and received a video call from her mom who was in Florence, Italy.

I am old enough to remember rotary phones and I am not that old.

Sitting in the Intercity Express, not on one of it's maiden (record) runs, but right when they went into public service,

or very shortly before that on a promotion, on the new high speed track between Cologne and Frankfurt.

Gently sloped up- and downhill, sometimes right next and parallel to the Autobahn A3.

At 331 to 333 kph. Not shaking at all, and relatively silent.

Looking out of the window, seeing Porsches, Mercedes-Benz, BMW

trying to overtake slower traffic permanently blinking left, flashing their lights.

Appearing almost stationary.

Thinking: Who needs Transrapid?

For me it was "so I'm living in the future, and look how relatively boring it is". Boring compared to the wild storm chaser fantasies of Bruce Sterling, and fortunately boring.

But well, there are still ten years to go until 2031, let's hope we still won't be enticed to think about an F-6 by then...

The stream had no audio and my brainchip implant couldn't feel me the salty smell of the sea and the blast of wind on my face.

about a year and a half ago i had the exact same thought, only i was watching a live stream on my phone of the iss crew doing an eva to repair a component. i was genuinely awestruck at the fact that i could see humans servicing a space station — live — whilst i was on the toilet.

Even better watch the stream on a phone or tablet while watching the ISS fly overhead. There is something about watching humans working on that bright star flying overhead live on a device in your hand. :)

All that...by a US federal agency. Respect.

Saildrone is a startup; its primary customer is NOAA, the US Federal agency in the question.

From my impressions, NOAA is a very useful agency that delivers on its mission pretty well. But I never interacted with them directly.

I've used NOAA data to investigate how weather effects production and energy consumption in manufacturing environments.

I found the data to be of good quality, free, and a simple interface to interact with.

One day I went to export data from their web portal and it never seemed to be ready. I shot an email off with no expectation of a response, but a little while later I got a nice response from their system administrator that they were doing an upgrade and some jobs got backed up in the queue. My limited experience with them has been all positive.

NOAA is very hit or miss with their data. I spent a lot of time this summer with the NOAA buoy data. So much of it is available and well documented. The historical and live CSV's are useful, but there is also the stuff where a column name doesn't link up to any of the docs and you have to dig through papers and reverse engineer the correct equation.

The biggest downside is the buoy's are rather old so you don't get a lot of data. Nowadays we could design a buoy that streamed back all of its raw data. But the buoys are designed with bandwidth constrained hardware so they do the analysis on the machine and return the summary results infrequently. It really limits what you're able to do with the data. Especially holding back from machine learning capability.

I was using very basic factors - temperature and humidity primarily. I never ran into that issue, but I could certainly see it being a challenge.

Out of curiosity, what have you been using buoy data for?

Their forecasts are used by basically all the news reports in the entire country. They might actually have the most direct effect on your life of any agency out there. When there is a warning or watch it's basically their call.

Something about NOAA brushing shoulders with what could have been existential disaster[1] to the detriment of the public, only to resume their mission of diving head first into natural ones supported by the first-to-market ethos of a modern startup has poetic justice vibes to it. A win for both Saildrone and the general public at large.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-14/trump-s-p...

NOAA's most obvious citizen-facing product for me has been the National Hurricane Center.

Right here is a link to the web site: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

Their forecasting graphics (probability distributions of tropical cyclone tracks, wind speeds, rainfall, et cetera, all overlaid on maps) are direct and easy-to-read, and do a good job of conveying the uncertainty of the behavior of these storms in a way that's legible to a lay person.

When those tracks are thought to be inaccurate they can easily be edited with a sharpie.

They run most of the weather radar in the US.

I do and it's true!

NOAA has always had it together. I think working for them might be a lot of fun (unless you have to interface with politics, which I think only a few people there have to).

Hijacking: Can someone ELI5 me why two pockets of differing air temperature create such violent weather patterns? It feels like dark magic.

I really didn't grasp the size of that drone. It is not a little model boat, it is a ship. This video shows it being launched, and includes images of what it looks like:


That's a larger model, this is the earlier Saildrone Explorer mentioned in that video. The vessel they are launching is 72 feet long, this one is 23 feet. So not a model boat, but not large either.

The house I grew up in, in the US, was 23 feet wide. And globally speaking, that's a big house. So it ain't small, either.

Nice, I had seen the Explorer models a while back and rather liked the work they were doing, it's great to see they are progressing and making larger ones.

Could somebody please TL;DR the wing design (of the big boat) for me? The one with the additional extra wing?

It's a self trimming wingsail. Its only purpose is to maintain the angle of attack of the main wing, much like how a horizontal stabilizer works on an airplane.

Personally I think it is something that is brilliant, and it is actually the primary feature that enables autonomous operation as a drone. There are no halyards or sheets, no ropes anywhere. All you have to do is maintain an angle of attack relative to the wind, and you have propulsion.

BTW, the founder holds the wind propulsion land speed record, and the wing design for this is an evolution of that design. When you're moving at 4 times the wind speed, no human can possibly keep up with the continuous trimming demands of a sail. This design does it perfectly, and at an overall reduction in total complexity.

Ah ok ... no I was asking about the full size wing with that second wing attached to it.

Think it's like an elevator on airplane controls the angle of the big one.

Easier to rotate the wing than a motor at the root of the big wing.

Ooooh ... smart! Now ... I wonder if I can do the same thing for my 3D printed (hobby-) VAWTs!

I think those have some kind of centrifugal pitch control with a linkage (based on RPM), might have to look at existing designs.

There are some helicopter blades that have this same idea, a little moving thing to control the pitch of the rotor over a swash plate

That's a safety feature as much as it is an efficiency feature, it allows you to safely furl the blades when you are overspeeding, you can't rely on anything that isn't directly connected to the rotor base because it might be jammed, damaged, out of power or missing entirely. The blades governing themselves is the ideal, the linkage is there for synchronization and balance purposes only.

Controlling the pitch of the blades is how most helicopters work.

Probably wasn't clear above, I'm saying they weren't using a swashplate (most helicopters) they were using this little tiny tab attached to the rotor that could be controlled.

This thing on kman kmax https://gallery.vtol.org/images/2017/08/15/kmaxServoFlap.jpg

info https://www.helis.com/howflies/servo.php

Oh neat! Thanks for educating me.

Yes, but that's using an external actuator, rather than weights that pull the blades to their new angle.

This 2020 video shows a fleet of their "smaller" models under test in Hawaii: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvXq4n2aVh8

Some smaller sizes ones shown here: https://youtu.be/ugDnC0iidL4?t=227

That reminded me of my team rowing across the Atlantic ocean but watching the storm video again doesn't seem that impressive in comparison: https://youtu.be/3barM5C7ecg?t=184

I'm seriously impressed you pulled that off in something that small. I know that people have done it in smaller boats but rowing a vessel in waves many times the length of the ship must present some pretty interesting challenges.

Our 9m boat was surprisingly stable even in 6m waves. As long as you don't rotate sideways the risk of capsizing is pretty low

Ah 9m, ok, that's bigger than it looked on the video. As long as the boat is longer than the waves you are dealing with you should be relatively stable.

You are, still pretty scary at first. I tried our kayak for the first time this summer at sea, maybe 1 m waves or so. Boat is 5 odd meters, and at first it fleet scary, was fun afterwards so! Quite a change after lakes, rivers and maybe some wind at most. Being sideways, you have to return at some point, was adventurous for a noon at sea kayaking like myself!

That's incredible. I have so many questions!

Wow that looked amazing. How monotonous was it on a day to day basis?

You don't really think in terms of days but 2-hours shifts. And some of them felt like they would never end, especially in the dark at night

I imagine there were no 8 hours of sleep for anyone during that time. How did you train yourselves to operate at that capacity with such little sleep?

That's excellent! I rowed in high school and college... but this is very next level. I love seeing stuff like this, thanks for posting the vid here!

Wow that is an amazing achievement, those waves are scary, especially being so far from assistance in such a small boat. Did you manage the whole journey without major issue?

As impressive as navigating and sailing autonomously is, I’m most impressed by the construction of a camera where the lens isn’t completely sprayed with water while in a storm.

I wonder if it's got a Clear View Screen [1] at an offset in front of it, the round window thing you see in ships. Basically a round pane that they spin really fast, throwing any water off right away.

Shameless plug of a youtube channel I enjoy, here's a guy installing one of those in their CNC machine to make better footage [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clear_view_screen [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYAnOheWHEA

It’s not a shameless plug if it’s not your own channel. :)

It doesn't look like it, there is some more footage online of that drone and you can clearly see the spray stick to the glass in front of the camera.

I was also wishing it had some form of gimbal/stabilization, I think it would help visually to put the wave sizes into perspective. Maybe not, I don't know much about video stuff

In the article they say there are 50feet waves. But it's hard to appreciate that on the video. Is there a way to better look at these picture to get a better sense of the scale ?

Wave height/sea state is notoriously difficult to present on video in a way that renders justice. I think it's due to lack of gimbal and probably focal length vs. field of view, and lack of depth perception.

Lack of horizon, lack of depth, lack of sense of motion, and lack of anything to measure scale against, all make video incapable of conveying true scale.

Though when you can get those elements together, the result is gut-clenching. What does it for me is Big Wave surfing at Nazare. Camera's on land, horizon is fixed, motion is clear, and the ant on the face itself gives perspective. I almost have the opposite problem, the image registers as synthetic or manipulated, even when it isn't:


Thats why there's always debate how big a surfers wave was, and then how do you measure from the front or the back?

Stick a wave-height vertical ruler in front of the camera at a calibrated distance, and read them off ;)

You don't really see much in real life either. I've been in 10m waves, and didn't see much. The waves breaking over the entire boat is something I remember very clearly, but not from seeing. It just looked chaotic.

Well, the Draupner Wave brushed the under side of an oil rig, if that helps. That was a rogue wave and they get a lot higher.

There are also the opposite - rogue holes - the trough part of a wave. Imagine being in a boat and dropping 100ft.


Makes you wonder how many ships got lost before structural integrity improved to the point where a ship would survive that kind of impact.

There was an interesting article in Quanta a while back on this topic.

> Researchers have since determined that rogue waves probably claimed 22 supercarriers and more than 500 lives in the second half of the 20th century alone.


You can estimate the wave size using the Beaufort scale https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaufort_scale

Highly recommend HBO's new mini series (documentary) about big wave surfing [0]. Lots of heavy wave action in it and they delve into the very unscientific manner in which surfers and surfing orgs "measure" these monsters.

[0] https://www.hbo.com/100-foot-wave

I agree; it almost looks like some random heavy sea footage from an exterior camera in that "Deadliest catch" show.

I was thinking, this would rock in 3D/VR.

Yeah, I would love this camera setup to be upgraded to a stereo pair.

If you look closely there is a banana visible in the ocean for a couple of seconds.

@dang, hey please reset word wraping in title, its causing word break in most of the titles in mobile which reduces speed of checking them quickly.

are you speed reading?

Regardless of reading style, it's pretty choppy to read

"Ocean drone captures video from inside a hurr icane"

I generally skip words to increase my speed. If anything interesting is spotted, I dive deep into it. Its just a learned habit by consistent reading of decade. though not as fast as speed readers, It saves a lot of time.

Not being funny but that's pretty much what it looks like on a typical winter's day wherabouts I live (England).

I actually had the expectation that Eye of the hurricane is pretty calm. Doesn't look like. And then I wonder what happens on the edge of the hurricane...

The eye is very calm - and freakily bright. It glows from all directions as the light is reflected down into it, causing all the windows in the house to cast shadows onto the floor, which your brain can quickly realize is wrong! But I expect on the water it's a bit different - I experienced the eye of hurricane Charley when it made landfall in Florida in 2004. My uncle actually ran for his camera because he figured it'd be calm a while. Thankfully he was right

But this footage is not from within the eye.

It definitely seems like it is from within the eye, or at least extremely close to it based on the video imagery.

is it not? i assumed it was the eye with the title "inside a huricane"

other sites: "For first time ever, drone sent into eye of Cat. 4 hurricane"

the article outlines footage from inside the hurricane.

> the article outlines footage from inside the hurricane.

Further the article has a video showing the location of the drone in the storm, pretty far from the eye.

That does not look like an eye due to darkness. Waves would be a bit calmer too as the wind would die.

‘Inside a hurricane’ could very well mean either ‘inside the envelope around a hurricane where wind speeds exceed hurricane force’, ‘inside the eye wall of a hurricane’, rather than ‘inside the eye of a hurricane’.

If someone tells you there’s jam inside a donut do you complain that the hole through the middle appears to contain no jam?


Maybe force 6 is normal, but this is easily force 10+

Even the fastnet race of 79 was LESS than what we are seeing in this video

The pilot chart for north atlantic in december is showing 20% of days are at a gale in your latitudes, but that's again, a far stretch from the video: https://www.offshoreblue.com/nav/pilot-charts.php

Here's the beaufort scale for reference: https://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/beaufort.html

This is a travesty! I want names! Each one of these drones should have a name!

If a cyclone can get her name, why not the drone that went through the cyclone?!

Therefore Saildrone Explorer SD 1045 from here on is named Tippy McTipity.

Cheers to Tippy! Well done.

(Pay attention Ms. Allen. The NOAA could use a good public naming promo for any other drones that did cool stuff!)

Cool footage, but I find it very hard to believe that there has never been footage from inside a hurricane. Is this constrained by some strange definition of what it means to be "inside?"

I was even a tad disappointed. I was expecting a sudden clearing in the clouds, the sun serenely shining down, and the sounds of distant angels singing before the little boat would hit a dark storm-wall on the other side, entering the chaos again.

Expectations really taint one's experience in matters like these.

Yes, some movies depict the "eye" of the hurricane like that.

Wikipedia has this to say:

> Though the eye is by far the calmest part of the storm, with no wind at the center and typically clear skies, on the ocean it is possibly the most hazardous area. In the eyewall, wind-driven waves all travel in the same direction. In the center of the eye, however, the waves converge from all directions, creating erratic crests that can build on each other to become rogue waves. The maximum height of hurricane waves is unknown, but measurements during Hurricane Ivan when it was a Category 4 hurricane estimated that waves near the eyewall exceeded 40 m (130 ft) from peak to trough.


> the first video footage gathered by an uncrewed surface vehicle (USV)

Probably it doesn't add any scientific value, but I was expecting sound with the video (even if it all is noise)

It probably would sound like noise.

Hurricanes are interesting to listen to, though. The banshee wails of the winds as another band comes through. The low growling/humming sound when it is otherwise quiet between bands. The wet, snapping of death coming to a tree.

Yes, if they put a microphone on a Mars rover, why not on an ocean going drone? A microphone deep in the water might be nice too (and I would be very surprised if they don't have those for applications in marine biology and military).

Here's a nice article [1] on underwater sound in extreme storms, note in the referenced paper [2] they managed to deploy a hydrophone under 10 m waves and 40 m/s winds! This type of research is largely military funded, not for its direct applications but more because sound is so fundamental to everything a navy does. There are also civilian applications for measuring waves, wind and rain, either in extreme conditions like [2] or where a surface buoy is impractical (e.g. in locations where surface buoys tend to get stolen or broken). It's definitely a case where one person's "noise" is another person's "signal". I too am a bit surprised saildrone didn't have a hydrophone on their rig, maybe they did but the sound is not so interesting for the press release.

[1] https://acoustics.org/what-can-we-learn-from-breaking-wave-n...

[2] https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/phoc/44/10/jpo-d-...

Carried out by NOAA which is part of the Department of Commerce:


I don't know why but I find watching extreme weather very calming. I feel almost hypnotized watching that video.

I notice that there are a lot of videos on Youtube of stormy weather which people use to help them sleep. So I guess this is part of that same phenomenon.

If you're in the SF Bay Area and want to see these in-person, Saildrone HQ is in Alameda:


(I don't think they have public tours, but I could be wrong)

Usually you can spot the drones in Seaplane Lagoon, and the water nearby.

Understandable but disappointing that there's no sound. I filled the silence with a 'hurricane wind' track from Spotify, because I'm sad like that... https://open.spotify.com/episode/1p7ZN5APoqPzF2YSkH9vqP

They footage is very cool, and also terrifying. Is the SailDrone designed in some special way to avoid capsizing in such extreme conditions? For that matter what do regular (amateur) boaters do if their sailboat or motorized boat get caught in a bad storm on the open ocean?

Their vechicle technology page [1] has some details about the design, with pictures of the underwater parts too. It seems to be a combination of the rigid sail, the crossing "spar", and some sub-surface features.

Also surprised at the scale of the things, the smallest model is 7 m (23 ft) long, the largest is a whopping 22 m (72 feet).

Pretty cool things!

[1]: https://www.saildrone.com/technology/vehicles

The term to Google is “heavy weather sailing”. There are a number of techniques that start with checking the weather well ahead of time.

If you’re stuck at sea with a hurricane barreling down you can try to sail around the equatorial edge of it (in the northern hemisphere you try to sail south of it). Hurricanes tend to veer away from the equator. Moreover the wind and waves will be behind you, so you’re less likely to get knocked over by a gust or a wave. The boat is quite literally surfing.

If things get really bad you might heave-to which is a way to work the wind against itself causing the boat to mostly stall. It’s supposed to be very safe in heavy winds, but you would be pointing at the waves which is bound to be unpleasant.

Finally, a sailboat’s keel is very heavy. Check out the diagrams at [1]. The mast has to be well below water before the sailboat prefers turtling to upright.

[1] http://troldand.dk/en/?The_Boat___Stability

In theory. In practice things will never ever go as planned and you're going to have to improvise. Stuff will break, wind will change direction rapidly, you may have to chop a sail, you may lose a mast.

The very best way to deal with heavy weather is to be on the shore.

> For that matter what do regular (amateur) boaters do if their sailboat or motorized boat get caught in a bad storm on the open ocean?

I am far from an expert on this topic, but for sailboats; sea anchors and storm sails. The first is a parachute-like device that keeps the boat pointed in the right direction relative to the waves. The second is a small, tough sail used when any other sail, even while reefed, would be too big.

If you can't make it to shelter in time, it's better to weather the storm in open water than near the shore - at least that way, you won't risk hitting something and sinking.

From what I recall, it's designed with a "hurricane wing"[1].

As for regular yachts - drop a drogue, run before the storm with a bare minimum of sails up to maintain steering ability, try to keep the waves on your stern.

[1]: https://www.saildrone.com/news/tropical-atlantic-hurricane-m...

For that matter what do regular (amateur) boaters do if their sailboat or motorized boat get caught in a bad storm on the open ocean?

They footage IS very cool, for that matter what do EXPERIENCED boaters do if their sailboat or motorized boat get caught in a bad storm?

> what do EXPERIENCED boaters do if their sailboat or motorized boat get caught in a bad storm?

Nowadays I'd say experienced boaters never get to that point. There's reliable weather forecasting and near-instantaneous radar data. You can avoid the storms.


My understanding is that you can sail completely around the world in a small sailboat without ever being more than 2-3 weeks from a port of call. You check the weather forecast and leave for the next leg of your journey when you have a high confidence of a good weather window. And I've heard that pretty much no port will kick you out if you overstay your visa by waiting for safe weather (though you probably have to stay on the boat and not come ashore).

Also, at least in the US, typical boat insurance is very expensive if you want to have your boat anywhere near hurricane "areas" during hurricane season. People up here in the northern US like to take their boats down to Florida or the Caribbean during winter, but generally their insurance policy is null and void if they get there before Dec 1.


Info from the manufacturer: https://www.saildrone.com

If I'm reading correctly, NOAA is using the smallest of the three current models.

The article states that they used five specially designed drones. I thought that means that those are different then three products listed on saildrones' website. The one in NOAA's article looks a bit more sturdy (more compact sail) than the small model.

I know next to nothing about submarines. I keep wondering, what's it like for a submarine that surfaces into the middle of a hurricane? Obviously it's going to get more "nautical" as the sub approaches the surface (and the waves)...but how much does a submarine care about severe weather, while it's on/near the surface? Or does it just "convert" into a boat that's currently floating?

It's incredible that such a small thing can sail in this conditions.

I'd think it's robust enough to withstand a couple turn overs. Capsizes, my apologies, land rat here.

These drones are so cool, saw them in a Bloomberg video. I hope to get into that one day even just on my own in my creek/pond (submarine type).

I would love to see it annotated with numerical data that it is collecting, like how high the waves are, how fast the winds are, etc.

Sci-fi: the hurricane takes it back in time to the 1400s. It sails over to Europe and videos Columbus leaving for the new world.

Go deeper: The Vikings departing c. 1000

For sure movies have distorted my perception of danger these waves are supposed to be deadly Tbh was expecting some sort of mayhem

I always wondered how the seas looked inside the hurricane. Thanks to technology someone accomplished this.

Having been in 8 foot seas on a small craft, this video is terrifying and astounding all in one.

The video is cool, but seems like the real value is what the sensors are picking up.

I genuinely feel quite terrified just watching that first video.

This is some "mission to Planet Earth" stuff!

Makes me remember of twister and an era when we had SGI.

Disappointing. No shark-nado or laser beams anywhere.

Very cool, but obviously hard to tell scale. Does anyone with more expertise have an idea of how large those swells/waves might be?

Edit, after RTFA:

> SD1045 is battling 50 foot waves

Its a cool project, but the footage isn't that great. Youtube has a bunch of bigger storm & wave footage from ships.

I really hope drones continue to be used for good, rather than blowing people up from the comfort of a gaming chair.

Sneaking in under cover of hurricane for a first strike.

Eye of the storm is not calm?

Neat. But what happens to this drone after the hurricane, or when it stops phoning home due to UV damage, drained batteries, or gunked up solar cells?

Does it just become another member of the Great Garbage Patch?

Of course, absolutely impressive.

But the inside of the storm looks like some huge waves crashing all around. Am I missing the lightbulb moment?

Maybe a potential pivot to sell Saildrone to storm-chasing, surfer, adrenaline junkies. That'd be one helluva ride!

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