The autonomous underwater robot that began searching for the missing Malaysian airliner Monday ran into trouble on its initial mission but is expected to try again today.
Bluefin-21, the torpedo-shaped robot, was expected to work for about 24 hours after submerging into the southern Indian Ocean for the first time Monday, but its work was cut short after the robot went too deep for safe operations.
A built-in safety feature forced the robot to the surface after it went below a depth of 2.8 miles. The robot was only able to gather six hours of data, a fraction of the time and the data that researchers were expecting of the Bluefin-21.
"The six hours of data gathered by the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is currently being extracted and analyzed," the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, which is spearheading the search for Malaysian Airline Flight 370, said today.
The robot was expected to go back into the water today but was delayed because of weather conditions. Sea swells of six and a half feet, along with thunderstorms, curbed the search efforts.
It's not clear if the ocean depth in other parts of the area being searched will also be too deep for the robot.
As many as nine military aircraft, two civil aircraft and 11 ships assisted in the search for the airliner, which has been missing since March 8 and carried 239 people.
On Monday, retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Center, said the air and surface search will come to an end in the next day or two in the area where searchers believe the aircraft most likely entered the water.
The chance of finding any floating material has "greatly diminished," he said.
Now much of the searchers' hopes lie with the Bluefin-21, a robot built by Bluefin Technologies and owned by Phoenix International Holdings, a marine services contractor.
The robotic sub carries batteries, cameras and sensors, sonar and echosounder equipment to detect wreckage, signs of an anchor or airplane parts that might have been dragged across the ocean floor.
The robot also uses GPS and has a 4GB flash drive for onboard data storage.
The robot, which is able to produce a high resolution, three dimensional map of the sea floor, is expected to go on multiple 24-hour-plus missions.
It generally takes two hours for the Bluefin-21 to get down to the ocean floor. It is designed to operate about 16 hours and then take another two hours to return to the surface. Analysts then need about four hours to download and study the data collected.
According to Bluefin, the robot comes with a Windows-based tool suite that handles vehicle testing, mission planning, vehicle communications, mission monitoring and execution, data management, and post-mission analysis.
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