SARASOTA — Mote scientists spent Thursday using side-scan sonar in an effort to find a scientific robot that has been missing since Aug. 31. Now Mote is seeking the public’s help for the safe return of the robot nicknamed “Waldo.”
The robot — an autonomous underwater vehicle or AUV for short — had been patrolling the waters off Southwest Florida for five days looking for signs of red tide. The robot is equipped with a device designed and built by Mote scientist Gary Kirkpatrick that can automatically detect the presence of red tide in the water.
Waldo is designed to glide up and down and forward through the water, sending signals to satellites each time it surfaces. Waldo was tooling along offshore from Venice just fine, making reports every two hours between Aug. 26 and 31.
“Then, bam, it just stopped sending a signal,” Kirkpatrick said. “There are a few possibilities that we think are likely: It could have had a major leak or malfunction and sank to the bottom and is just sitting there. Or, it could have had a malfunction with its computer or its communication system and is floating on the surface but unable to tell us that it’s there.
“We’re hoping that if anyone has seen Waldo, they will call and let us know so we can pick it up,” Kirkpatrick said.
Mote is offering a $500 “no-questions-asked” reward for the return of Waldo. Scientists are hoping that with Labor Day being a busy boating holiday, someone will spot Waldo.
Anyone with information about Mote’s missing AUV is asked to call (941) 388-4441 x 271.
Hayley Rutger, a spokeswoman at Mote, said Waldo is painted yellow, is about six feet long and weighs about 115 pounds. It is a cylindrical shape and has fins.
Anyone with information is asked to call (941) 388-4441, ext. 271.