Monterey Robot Diving Deep in Gulf Waters

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is some 2,000 miles away, but that isn't stopping local technologies from helping out.

For instance, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute is providing a high-tech submersible robot was launched into the gulf waters to help in the response to the oil spill.

The robot was sent to the oily waters to collect information about the oil plume from the Deepwater Horizon drilling-rig accident that exploded last month, resulting in the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The underwater vehicle will help researchers understand the nature and extent of any plumes of oil that may be hidden beneath the surface of the ocean.

MBARI sent the high-tech robot to the Gulf following an agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Coordinating this response in partnership with government and academic institutions is not only important for providing much-needed fundamental information on the spill and its impacts, but also serves as a valuable learning experience for understanding how to respond to such incidents in the future," MBARI President and CEO Chris Scholin said in a news release.

MBARI officials said the autonomous underwater vehicle can dive 5,000 feet below the surface to collect water samples near the seafloor. The vehicle follows a roller-coaster path through the water, which allows its instruments to monitor a cross-section of the ocean.

When the vehicle is recovered, its water samples will be analyzed for a variety of chemicals associated with the oil and dispersants.

MBARI engineers and scientists have been developing the robotic vehicle for nearly a decade, and added its water-collection capability in 2007.

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That isn't the only Bay Area connection to the oild spill.

A Sunnyvale company is making tools that look like your plumber might be using that could very well play a role in the spill.

Until this week, Turner Designs had not gotten a whole lot of attention from the Silicon Valley crowd. Yes, they deal in pretty complex technology, but there's no social-networking or micro-blogging involved, just manufacturing scientific instruments to track oil spills.

The instruments about to enter the spotlight have names like the C3 Submersible Flourometer, and the Cyclops-7 Submersible Crude Oil Sensor. You probably couldn't recognize them in a lineup, but they're being counted on to help stem the flow of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Turner's devices are being used mainly to help track the flow of oil. The C3 Flourometer, for example, uses optical sensors to track the flow. With news coming out fast and furious about just how much oil has been leaked in the BP disaster, tracking the spill is now topic number one in the press, and on the scene of the spill.

As BP itself pumps mud and cement into the leak to stem it, the big task of tracking just how much oil has been lost, and where that oil may end up, could likely last for awhile.

Which means a Silicon Valley company you don't know yet is probably going to be pretty well known before too long.

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