USF drone ships used for high-definition mapping of gulf floor

Researchers at the University of South Florida are using underwater drones to give them a better view of what lies far beneath the surface. 

They're called un-crewed surface vessels, or USVs, and they can create highly detailed maps of the Gulf Coast shoreline and seafloor.

The nearly 16-foot drone watercraft is covered in solar panels and high-tech acoustic sensors. It could be called one of the most powerful depth finders in the world.

The technology is cool, but the practicality could change how we understand storms, climate change, and more.

"Our goal is to make better models of how storm surge would inundate these areas," explained USF professor Steven Murawski. "This is very important for preparation. We know, in Florida, what coast resilience and coastal vulnerability is all about."

The researchers from USF plan to survey much of Tampa Bay's coastal areas, which are some of the hardest to properly map because of shallow depths.  

Cruising along at 4 knots, the USV quietly does the heavy lifting, making it look easy.  

"It is really exciting to be at the cutting edge of technology and the kinds of experiments we have been doing have never been done before," Murawski said.

In January, the team plans to fly a plane with a high-tech laser over those same areas, and then they'll marry the maps together for an even higher-fidelity image.