(TNS) — Society currently has better maps of the moon, Mars and Venus than of the ocean, says Dan Stilwell with Virginia Tech’s marine robotics research. But he and others are attempting to paint a better picture of the sea floor, which may involve dropping drones into Hampton Roads waters.

Virginia Tech researchers and a professor at Old Dominion University have teamed up to develop a fleet of 12 underwater drones costing $125,000 each that they hope will survey the deepest parts of the ocean faster — and cheaper — than anyone has done before.

When might that come in handy, besides to generally explore the relative unknown? The oil and gas industries wouldn’t mind knowing more about what lurks below and the military has already sought ways to position sensors on the bottom of the ocean. Stilwell says technology such as what he and his team are developing could also make underwater searches, like the unsuccessful nearly three-year effort to find missing Malaysian Airline flight MH370, more affordable and faster.

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