Saildrone Founder & CEO Richard Jenkins Recognized with Michelson Award for Innovation

The Albert A. Michelson Award, presented at Sea Air Space 2022 by the Navy League of the United States, recognizes outstanding achievement by industry innovators and leaders.

Since Saildrone’s inception, we have worked tirelessly to provide high-resolution real-time data and intelligence from Earth’s most remote oceans to customers around the world. Now, Saildrone is proud to announce that Founder and CEO Richard Jenkins has been selected as the winner of the 2022 Albert A. Michelson Award by the Navy League of the United States.

The annual award is presented to a “civilian scientist, technical innovator or group or organization that has demonstrated scientific or technical achievement that has resulted in a significant improvement in the strength of our maritime forces or to the enhancement of our industrial-technology base.”

Richard Jenkins receives Albert A. Michelson award at Sea Air Space 2022
Richard Jenkins, left, receives the Albert A. Michelson Award from (left to right) Secretary of the Navy the Honorable Carlos Del Toro, Navy League National President Dave Reilly, and Navy League National CEO Mike Stevens.

Jenkins and the Saildrone team have made waves in the defense community in recent months, demonstrating that turnkey maritime domain awareness (MDA) solutions are a force multiplier, enabling rapid and effective response from high-value manned assets. 

In December 2021, the US Navy’s 5th Fleet began operating a group of Saildrone Explorer uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) in the Red Sea off the coast of Jordan, and later in the Arabian Gulf off the coast of Bahrain, to demonstrate how Saildrone USVs can provide persistent presence in a dynamic maritime environment. Combined with advanced machine learning algorithms and software applications, Saildrone USVs are a force multiplier, enabling rapid and effective response from high-value manned assets.

Saildrone Founder and CEO Richard Jenkins recognized with the 2022 Albert A. Michelson Award for innovation by the Navy League of the United States.

Saildrone’s turnkey MDA solution leverages the largest data set of images of the open ocean. Saildrone USVs have already sailed more than 750,000 nautical miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic, spending more than 17,000 days at sea. Tens of millions of images have been collected every five seconds by the Saildrone fleet. The images have been annotated with human analysis highlighting anything of interest—ships, fishing boats, birds, icebergs, and more.

With this enormous data set, Saildrone developed a proprietary machine learning model to automatically recognize and classify objects in real time, providing enhanced situational awareness and decision support. Saildrone's masthead 360° optical camera system combined with the ML model running onboard GPU compute processors deliver real-time, visual detection of vessels that may not be transmitting their position. 

Real-time data and target detections are delivered via the Saildrone Mission Portal, a user-friendly, secure web portal with advanced collaboration features and mission planning tools. Communications are encrypted via VPN over Iridium, and an API for data integration into other systems is also available.

Real-time data and target detections delivered via the Saildrone Mission Portal.

The Saildrone Explorer, one of three USV models, is a 23-foot vehicle equipped with a payload of sensors powered by solar energy. Powered by the wind for forward propulsion, the Saildrone Explorer provides persistent eyes and ears on the water, with a zero operational carbon footprint. Unlike other USVs, saildrones collect data above and below the sea surface, and they can remain active and on mission, without the support of traditionally crewed ships, for up to 365 days continuously sending data back in real-time, without the need for support vessels or physical interactions. 

“The Saildrone USV is an engineering marvel and the company that Richard has built around it is transforming how we think about accessing our world’s oceans. Saildrones are a paradigm shift in autonomous maritime capability,” said James F. Guerts, former assistant secretary of the Navy. 

SD 5901 getting loaded into a US Navy Lockheed C-130T Hercules in Bahrain en route to Jordan for the Task Force 59 mission.

Speaking in an online discussion sponsored by the Washington think tank the Middle East Institute, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said using “artificial intelligence to map the waters… detecting when something is unusual—smuggling, illegal fishing, you name it—and then sending the information back to the command center. That process has allowed us to expand our maritime domain awareness two or three times.” According to the Navy League’s magazine, Seapower, Cooper also noted that with more nations using USVs, maritime domain awareness in the region could expand to 30 times the coverage.

“I am deeply honored to receive this award,” said Jenkins. “We have worked extremely hard over the years to develop this technology. It is fantastic to see it being deployed by the US Navy, and now also recognized by the Navy League of the United States. We are excited to be playing a key role in improving the strength of our maritime forces.”

Saildrone performed a 30-day proof-of-concept demonstration for the US Coast Guard off the coast of Hawaii to show how USVs could be used to provide persistent MDA at sea.

In addition to the collaboration with the US Navy, in October 2020, Saildrone performed a demonstration of MDA capabilities for the US Coast Guard, which lead to the development of the 33-foot (10 m) Saildrone Voyager, specifically designed to meet the challenges of IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing), ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance), law enforcement and maritime safety, drug interdiction, border and harbor security, and ecosystem monitoring missions.

Jenkins has dedicated his entire career to the development of record-breaking, environmentally friendly platforms. He developed Saildrone’s core technology over a 10-year period, driven by a goal to break the world land-speed record for wind-powered vehicles. He ultimately achieved that record on March 26th, 2009, setting a speed of 126.2 mph on a dry lakebed in California. He then continued his legacy of innovation in the ocean, applying the same now-patented wing technology to an uncrewed wind-powered sailing vehicle, which became the Saildrone Explorer.

“I have been involved in ocean technology development for NOAA for over 30 years and have patented and commercialized several technologies; Richard’s accomplishments stand out over anything I have seen in my career. His innovative saildrone platforms are a technical achievement of the highest order and have resulted in a significant improvement in the strength of our maritime forces to conduct oceanographic research,” said Christian Meinig, director of engineering at NOAA PMEL.

The Saildrone Surveyor approaches Oahu, with Waikiki and Diamond Head in the background, after sailing 2,250 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean.

Saildrone vehicles have performed several “world firsts”: The first uncrewed vehicle to sail from San Francisco to Hawaii in October 2013, the first uncrewed vehicle to cross the Atlantic in July 2019 (and back to Rhode Island later that summer) and the first uncrewed vehicle to circumnavigate Antarctica in August in 2019.

In January 2021, Saildrone launched the 72-foot Surveyor, the first USV capable of autonomously mapping the ocean floor to a depth of 23,000 feet (7,000 m); the Surveyor completed first uncrewed bathymetric survey from San Francisco to Hawaii in July 2021. The Saildrone Surveyor could provide invaluable support to the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project, which was recently formally endorsed as a Decade Action for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, and aims to bring together all available bathymetric data to produce the definitive map of the world ocean floor by 2030, freely available to the global community.

In September 2021, in another world first, Jenkins successfully sent a 23-foot Saildrone Explorer into the eye of a Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, taking scientific measurements and HD video that could transform our understanding of hurricane forecasting. The accomplishment demonstrated beyond doubt the resiliency of the Saildrone platform in the most extreme ocean environments on the planet.

A massive wave captured by Saildrone Explorer SD 1045’s onboard camera during Hurricane Sam, September 2021.

In addition to standard metocean sensors, Saildrone Explorers can also be equipped with echo sounders to measure fish biomass, track marine mammals, and map the seafloor, Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers for measuring the speed and direction of ocean currents, and an ASVCO2 system for carbon monitoring, which designed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and integrated into the Saildrone platform through a public-private partnership between Saildrone and NOAA. The Surveyor is the only autonomous platform capable of performing International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)-compliant bathymetry surveys to depths of 23,000 feet (7,000 m).

Having established Saildrone and a leader in maritime data solutions and demonstrating the vehicles to be the most capable and proven USVs available, Jenkins expanded the technology to address new market needs including lifecycle solutions for offshore wind farms, ocean mapping, and maritime security. 

Previous Michelson Award winners include Edward “Sonny” Masso, executive director of the Naval Historical Foundation, Dr. Bruce Danly, director of research for the US Navy, and Clifton E. Athon, Nuclear Fuel Services’ principal scientist.

The 2022 Albert A. Michelson Award was presented at the Sea Air Space Conference April 4 – 6 at the Gaylord National Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Visit Saildrone at Booth 437.


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