Photo/IllutrationAn unmanned probe used to search for seafloor hydrothermal deposits (Provided by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology)

Unmanned probes launched by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, a government-affiliated research institute, located metal resources close to seabed hydrothermal vents.

JAMSTEC said Aug. 24 that the technology proves to be more efficient than methods previously used to locate precious resources like zinc, copper and gold.

The metals accumulate around vents where water heated by magma gushes out.

Normally, researchers send an electrical current to the seafloor from a ship via a 200-meter-long cable equipped with electrodes. This allows them to locate hydrothermal deposits whose electric resistance is lower than in other areas.

JAMSTEC said it has developed the technology to find hydrothermal deposits by exchanging electricity between two probe vehicles, each measuring four to five meters long.

An experiment in waters off the northwestern part of the main Okinawa island showed that the technology can accurately specify hydrothermal deposits.

The probe vehicles move at a speed of about 4 kph, double of the current method and can change course quickly.

This will make the work to locate hydrothermal deposits three to four times more efficient, officials said.

The operating time of the probe vehicles is between eight and 10 hours. The agency is aiming to increase battery capacities and utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to automate its seabed operations.