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More often than not, when we think of drones, we think of flying machines and vehicles. But drones can thrive and perform some amazing feats outside of the sky, too. In fact, a fleet of underwater drones created by engineer Sampriti Bhattacharyya is being deployed to survey the treacherous seas to detect and locate drugs, contraband, landmines and wreckage, among other things. No ship’s hull is too thick to successfully ferry across narcotics without these sea drones detecting it, making these football-sized devices the new custom officers of the sea.

Bhattacharyya originally designed these sea drones to detect cracks in the tanks of nuclear reactors. When she happened across the U.S. Navy’s much maligned process of utilizing dolphins to locate sea mines, she realized that the applications for her drone were more far-reaching, and had the ability to spare the lives of these poorly treated and used porpoises. The prototype fleet of drones, developed by Bhattacharyya’s company Hydroswarm, use jets to maneuver and propel on the rough seas, with interchangeable sensors that can be switched out on a whim depending on what the drones have been tasked to hunt down.

Cheaply made and assembled, these sea drones are equipped with sensors that are able to penetrate the hulls of ships to locate contraband and even map the ocean floor to create visual depictions of the underwater environment to locate things like mines or wreckage from other ships. Cutely dubbed Evie, which stands for Ellipsoidal Vehicle for Inspection and Exploration, the underwater drones could drastically assist in the monitoring and preservation of oceanic climates by keeping an eye on water quality or detecting pollution levels from oil spills.

As of now, the drones can only descend 820 feet into the ocean, but after the prototypes are finished, Bhattacharyya hopes to deepen their abilities. A single Evie drone can be deployed solo for a mission, but the drones work even better together, equipped with technology that allows them to communicate with one another, giving them a greater range when mapping and exploring the sea if deployed as a fleet. This is the ultimate goal for Bhattacharyya and her creation – the exploration and mapping of the ocean. Only 10-15% of the oceans have been mapped in detail, so a fleet of cheaply produced drones that can achieve such a function could unveil long-held secrets about our oceans.

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