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Underwater drone spots hundred-year-old discovery off Australian coast

Thanks to brand new technology developed out of Australia, exploring shipwrecks is about become a whole lot easier.

Despite all our advancements in modern technology, just five per cent of the sea has so far been explored and charted by humans.

With a total scale of around 360 million square kilometres, what truly lies at the darkest depths of the ocean is, for the most part, a total mystery. With an estimated three million shipwrecks currently scattered across the seabed, many may never be discovered.

Though some, thanks to brand new technology developed out of Australia, are now much more easily accessible and for the first time, able to be uncovered for a fraction of the usual price. This week, Global AI and robotics company Advanced Navigation announced it had discovered a 100-year-old shipwreck in the treacherous seas of the "Rottnest ship graveyard", located in the Indian Ocean off of WA.

Robotics company Advanced Navigation's charter boat is pictured here with drone Hydrus, after discovering an old shipwreck off Rottnest Island.
Global AI and robotics company Advanced Navigation has discovered a 100-year-old shipwreck in the treacherous seas of the Rottnest Island in WA. Source: Supplied

Using the underwater drone Hydrus, a "revolution in robotic technology", the 64-metre wreck was found in January laying across the seafloor off of Rottnest Island, spanning more than twice the size of a blue whale.

Underwater drone slashes costs associated with shipwreck exploring by 75 per cent

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Peter Baker, Subsea Product Manager at Advanced Navigation said the discovery marks just the beginning of an exciting new chapter in underwater drone technology.

He explained how using Hydrus, costs associated with exploring underwater shipwrecks are slashed by a staggering 75 per cent.

"The coast off of Western Australia is actually nicknamed 'the shipwreck coast' because there are so many," he told Yahoo. "It's quite a complicated piece of coastline to navigate, so historically there have been a lot of ships that have been wrecked there."

Barker said his team had "found ourselves in a bit of a unique situation" in that "we've built this amazing underwater data capture device". Being located in Perth, the team has access to WA Maritime Museum, who he said are "the custodians of a lot of information about shipwrecks" in the area.

Hydrus, an underwater drone (pictured), on its expedition into the Indian Ocean.
Using Hydrus, an underwater drone (pictured), costs associated with exploring underwater shipwrecks are slashed by a staggering 75 per cent. Source: Supplied

"And we also have another organisation at Curtin University called the HIVE, who are basically the world leaders in visualisation of underwater data, so thought we're in a unique scenario and decided to collaborate," he added.

Just the start of exciting new chapter

Baker said that his team were "given some approximate locations" of where it was thought that "there were some shipwrecks".

"We went out there and investigated one of the sites and we managed to locate the shipwreck on our first first voyage — so we analysed that data, and then we did a really detailed acquisition on the second trip, which took about five hours to capture, which was really impressive," he explained.

"From there, we gave some of the data Curtin and they were able to produce some stunning 3D models of the shipwreck.

"The reason we're excited about those is, they're able to go out and then share that information in a way that's easily digestible and understood by people who aren't necessarily familiar with looking at underwater data.

"That data was then shared with the Maritime Museum, who are now actively working to identify and classify what exactly which ship that is."

Budget-friendly technology to benefit researchers

Most researchers have a fixed budget when it comes to collecting underwater data, Baker said, so by drastically lowering the cost with Hydrus "they can go out and, instead of doing a trip once a year, they can go four times a year".

"Some researchers who couldn't get funding to go and do something, are now able to go and do that," he said.

"There's a lot of challenges facing the ocean today and what we need to do collectively is, have more information to make some better data driven decisions around that. And Hydrus is really a tool that enables that."

A 64-metre wreck that was found in January by Hydrus, laying across the seafloor off of Rottnest Island.
A 64-metre wreck was found in January by Hydrus, laying across the seafloor off of Rottnest Island. Source: Supplied

Baker said the team "intend to go out and continue to investigate areas of interest" on the seafloor and hope to discover even more shipwrecks. Preliminary investigations suggest the Rottnest wreckage was more than 100 years old and had been a coal hulk from Fremantle Port.

In this image we see an actual photo of the shipwreck taken (and discovered) by Hydrus.
In this image we see an actual photo of the shipwreck taken by Hydrus. Source: Supplied

It took humans 73 years to find the wreck of the Titanic, thant sunk in 1912 and was finally located in 1985 and, the remains of MH370 — which most accepted theories suggest plunged to its final resting place somewhere in the Indian Ocean — has never been found.

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