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Drone research vessels sailing Lake Superior

Boaters are being asked to steer clear of the bright-orange sailboards used for fisheries research.

Saildrone Inc. research vessel
Boaters on Lake Superior are being asked to keep any eye out for, and steer clear of, bright-orange autonomous research vessels that will be out on the big lake for several weeks charting fish populations.
Contributed / Saildrone, Inc.
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ASHLAND — The U.S. Coast Guard is asking boaters on Lake Superior to be aware of “uncrewed surface vehicles’’ called Saildrones cruising the big lake in coming weeks.

Saildrone Inc. is providing the “autonomous research vessels” that look like solar-powered sailboards being used to study fish populations in western and central areas of the big lake.

The Saildrones are scheduled to be launched from Ashland on Aug. 8 and will be on the water through Sept. 30. The company asks that boaters who see the bright-orange units remain 500 meters or more away to ensure the drones can collect data without human interference and to prevent any collisions.

Jay Austin and his University of Minnesota Duluth research team were trying to study drifting ice sheets on Lake Superior when they ran into a problem.

Sampling sites include waters near Grand Portage, Hovland, Grand Marais, Taconite Harbor, Two Harbors and Duluth in Minnesota waters; near Madeline Island, Devils Island, Sand Island and Port Wing in Wisconsin waters; near the upper entry of the Keweenaw Waterway at Ontonagon, Michigan; and near Thunder Bay, Ontario.

California-based Saildrone says its units have sailed more than 800,000 nautical miles and spent more than18,000 days at sea "collecting data that provides unprecedented intelligence for climate, mapping and maritime security applications."

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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