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Swimming robot enters the record books after epic 9000-mile journey across Pacific

After more than a year in the water, a swimming robot has set a new world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle.

The PacX Wave Glider, also known as Papa Mau, swam all the way from San Francisco to Queensland, Australia, a distance of 9,000 nautical miles (16,668 kilometers). It’s hard to know what’s more incredible – that engineers have the wherewithal to create such a contraption or that it wasn’t eaten along the way.

The company behind the project, US-based Liquid Robotics, used Papa Mau to gather “unprecedented amounts of high-resolution ocean data never before available over these vast distances or time-frames” to help scientists learn more about the condition and ecosystem of the Pacific.

The project was also designed to generate interest in the PacX Challenge, a competition encouraging scientists and students to make “interesting, productive or innovative” use of the data gathered by PacX.

During its mammoth journey, the swimming robot weathered gale force storms, fended off the attention of sharks and navigated its way around the Great Barrier Reef before finally arriving in Queensland this week.

“To say we are excited and proud of Papa Mau reaching his final destination is an understatement,” Liquid Robotics CEO Bill Vass said. “We set off on the PacX journey to demonstrate that Wave Glider technology could not only survive the high seas and a journey of this length, but more importantly, collect and transmit ocean data in real-time from the most remote portions of the Pacific Ocean. We’ve demonstrated delivery of ocean data services through the most challenging ocean conditions. Mission accomplished.”

PacX comprises two main sections – the top part has a surfboard-like appearance which helps stabilize the robot, while the bottom section is made up of a number of fins and a keel. There’s no fuel consumption involved as PacX is designed to convert wave energy into forward thrust.

Liquid Robotics still has another three robots at sea – one is heading for Australia while the other two are on their way to Japan.