A local company is on the cutting edge of ocean exploration using unmanned vehicles powered by wind and sun and the future looks bright for these ocean drones, which currently are being tested off the coast of San Diego.

Eric Patten is the CEO of Ocean Aero located off Scripps Poway Parkway in San Diego.  The company designs ocean drones for government, scientific and commercial use.

“We don’t have to refuel it.  It allows us to go out for days, weeks, or months,” said Patten.

The ocean drone can also transform into a submarine and use an electric motor to propel it underwater.

“The wing folds up, rotates around and folds down into the wing glove,” said Patten.  “We have solar panels that charge two lithium batteries.”

“You can remotely pilot it but it's autonomous.  So, you put in a mission for it.  It does that mission and it can make some of the decisions itself,” Patten explained.

For scientific applications, the drone can continuously measure weather and ocean conditions.

“Out of the box it does meteorological observation.  It measures the wind.  It measures the air temperature and the sea surface temperature.  It can get wave heights because we have very sensitive GPS onboard, said Patten.

For military use, the ocean drone can patrol harbors and international borders.  It will send an alert to shore whenever it hears a boat engine nearby.

And, the drone can automatically avoid other vessels at sea.

“What if a ship was to approach it?  Well, it has collision avoidance so it sees the ship using AIS (Automatic Identification System). So, it says, ‘I'm going to do a left turn, or a right turn or an about face; or maybe submerge and get underneath it.’’

The ocean drones can also receive messages from satellites and retransmit those messages to underwater vehicles and submarines.

The possibilities are literally endless.  Who knows, maybe someday they'll be using these drones to predict the surf off San Diego.

Ocean Aero makes three different sizes of ocean drones.  The largest one can carry a 2,000 pound payload and dive to 600 feet.  

They sell for between $350,000 and $950,000 each.