Liquid Robotics raises $22 million for autonomous sea drones

Hawaii-based startup Liquid Robotics has raised $22 million in VC funding for autonomous marine drones for use by energy and defense companies.

Liquid Robotics, a Hawaii-based startup that makes autonomous marine drones, announced on Tuesday that it has raised $22 million in Series D financing.

The round was led by VantagePoint Capital Partners -- if the name sounds familiar, it's because the venture capital firm is behind cleantech buzz brands Tesla, Tendril, Solazyme, MiaSole and Better Place -- and included oil services outfit Schlumberger.

The company's primary product is its Wave Glider self-powered hybrid sea-surface and underwater robotic vehicle, intended for use in ocean observation, data collection, surveillance and reconnaissance activities.

Part spy bot, part research tool, the Wave Glider is of interest to oil and gas companies scouting out offshore locations as well as defense systems integrators looking for an upper hand.

It's also useful for marine research and ocean engineering by the academic set; the bots are already in use by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, as well as several oceanographic institutions.

The pitch for the bot is that it's a simple, reliable and comparatively inexpensive solution for long-duration missions, with minimal environmental impact. It's controlled via satellite and uses the natural motion of waves to thrust forward, reducing energy consumption and emissions. On the back end, IT infrastructure in the form of a data-as-a-service cloud offers direct, real-time access to information the robot is capturing.

As such, part of the funding package includes the appointment of former Sun Microsystems Federal COO Bill Vass as CEO of the young company. It's no surprise that Vass' tour of duty has included infotech-related stints at the Pentagon and U.S. Army.

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