(WIRED) – AS FAR AS locales go, the bottom of the ocean is a particularly exasperating place to explore. Anyone or anything you send down there has to contend with the dark, with thousands of pounds of pressure on every square inch, with the inability to replenish fuel supplies without returning to the mother ship.

In recent years, unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) have improved the situation, eliminating the need to send a human down below, or to attach an unmanned vessel to a surface ship with a long umbilical cord. Those include Boeing’s Echo Ranger and Echo Seeker underwater robots, which can spend a few days at at time below the surface, with ranges measured in the tens or hundreds of miles. That’s progress, but it’s not enough to emancipate the UUV from the need for a nearby surface ship with a human crew, which piles on costs.

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