From Roomba to Research: A Clean Look at the Gulf Spill


While BP struggles with its own suction issues, the company that brought you that goofy (and annoying?) magic little Frisbee, the Roomba vacuum robot, is lending its expertise to the Gulf Spill disaster effort with its Seaglider unmanned underwater vehicle. (No, it’s not sucking up the oil, but just couldn’t resist giving you the opportunity to say “suction” in a wicked bad British accent. Go ahead. Say it again. Sookshen.)

The iRobot 1KA Seaglider is “deep-diving,” designed for long-term missions and can cover thousands of miles on a single battery charge. The vehicle measures temperature, salinity and other quantities in the ocean, sending back data using global satellite telemetry, according to its specs on the iRobot website.

Currently, iRobot has three of these vehicles in Gulf, working in conjunction with the U.S. Navy and a “handful” of universities to help determine what’s happening beneath the surface of the water. These Seagliders are specially equipped with sensors that report a wide variety of relevant data, including the presence of oil all the way down to 1,000 meters. And lest we forget you geeks: According to University of Southern Mississippi Professor or Marine Sciences Dr. Verson Asper, these souped-up Seagliders are recording colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) fluorescence, oxygen, optical backscatter, and chlorophyll fluorescence values that will help scientists better understand the spill.

“When you see the devastation in the Gulf every night on the news and every morning in the paper, you want to reach out and help,” says iRobot Chairman and CEO Colin Angle. Providing unmanned underwater exploration technology is, he says, “going to become even more important as the hurricane season approaches, increasing the dangers facing researchers on open waters.”

Hurricane season approaching? Can this get any worse?

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at