Canadians well-versed in their history are very aware of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage: a British voyage that set out to establish a sailing route through the Arctic and ended with the untimely, mysterious deaths of its two ship crews. No human ever found the abandoned ships, which makes it all the more fitting that the next best shot at discovery might come through a just-launched autonomous underwater vehicle from the University of Victoria and Bluefin Robotics. Meet the Mano, a new sonar-toting robot that can produce detailed undersea maps all by its lonesome while keeping a steady altitude above the ocean floor. It can only operate for 12 hours at a time, which will keep humans in the area, but its ability to run untethered below storms and cold Arctic winds should dramatically expand the territory that researchers can cover during their share of a larger five- to six-week journey. There's no guarantee that the Mano will hit the jackpot, or find something recognizable even if it does. Still, any mapping should improve navigation for modern boats -- and hopefully prevent others from sharing Sir Franklin's fate.
University of Victoria's Mano underwater robot to prowl Arctic waters for legendary ships
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