Businesses are seeing the opportunity in ocean technology
Ocean technology is not a new market, but it appears to have been somewhat overlooked. The silver lining is that companies can take advantage of the relatively limited interest in the world's seas, improving what has gone before or developing entirely new products. From autonomous ships to seaweed-based packaging, there are countless opportunities in the ocean technology space. Here, we list six companies that have set sail for ocean innovation.
Seafarers must handle adverse weather conditions, fix life threatening faults, transport precious cargo, and interact with other ocean users in a remote environment where even the smallest problems can spiral into incredibly dangerous situations. Shone, a US startup founded in 2017, believes that artificial intelligence has the power to make shipping safer.
By retrofitting manned ships with autonomous capabilities, Shone is able to collect data via sensors, cameras, radar and GPS to analyse ships' surroundings. This can help to predict the behaviour of other ocean users and preempt any problems that could arise during the journey. Shipping leader CMA GCM is currently using Shone technology to aid with navigation and gather data from its fleet.
2) Ocean Power Technologies
Ocean Power Technologies is the company behind PowerBuoy, a power station for generating clean energy from waves. Each PowerBuoy is fitted with radar and sonar, and can be controlled remotely. PowerBuoy stations are currently in use or development in nine global locations, providing an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) for various applications including oil and gas exploration.
At the moment, the power needed for oil and gas exploration is largely supplied by inefficient and non renewable diesel generators. While PowerBuoy stations are not yet powerful enough to support pumps and compressors, they are able to monitor the ocean environment and provide real time performance analysis of equipment. Eventually, they could replace diesel generators.
3) Resolute Marine
Over the next few decades, the demand for clean drinking water is expected to increase by as much as one third. To alleviate the pressure on regions where water is already a limited resource, Resolute Marine has created Wave2O. The system uses ocean energy to provide clean drinking water from the sea in areas where standard seawater desalination plants are too costly or time consuming to build.
Wave2O uses several wave energy converters to pressurise seawater and pump it to an onshore desalination plant. One of the biggest advantages to the system is that it can be installed within a matter of days. Resolute Marine's mission is to improve water access for developing countries and small island developing states (SIDS) and gradually replace the diesel electric desalination systems in use today.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, are more or less commonplace when it comes to the sky... But what about the sea? Enter Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) – in other words, ocean drones.
AquaBotix, founded in 2011, has developed a portable Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) called SwarmDriver for monitoring, research, defence, and surveillance. The vehicles can swarm in groups of 40 or more, and dive to depths of 50 metres. The USVs can communicate and make autonomous decisions, just like an aerial drone swarm. In 2018, AquaBotix entered a special purpose cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the US Navy.
OceanServer, a subsidiary of global aerospace and defence technology company L3Harris, has designed and manufactured the first 'family' of low cost, lightweight AUVs. The AUVs, called Ivers, come in three iterations and are designed for coastal applications. The maximum depth of the Iver4 is 300m below surface level. Ivers can be operated from the shore by a single person, which has obvious safety benefits. There are currently over 300 Iver models in operation, with applications in energy, intelligence, marine biology, research, search and rescue, and inspections.
NOTPLA has developed Ooho!, a packaging option made from a seaweed-based material that inspired the company's name. Originally founded in 2013 under the name Skipping Rocks Lab, NOTPLA has received funding from Sky Ocean Ventures and is a member of Europe's largest climate innovation accelerator, Climate KIC.
Ooho! has been used by Selfridges, JustEat, and various events including the London Marathon as an alternative to plastic packaging. The material has impressive sustainability credentials – it is fully biodegradable and even edible. In 2017, NOTPLA set up its first Ooho! manufacturing hub in London and plans to expand its seaweed strategy.
(Mari)time for a change
The world's seas are a vast resource, especially when it comes to industry. However, the above examples – plus the creation of ocean focused initiatives like Sky Ocean Ventures and the Ocean Solutions Accelerator – suggest that the tide is changing. Clean energy from systems like PowerBuoy and Wave2O are supporting sustainable development. UAVs are gathering insights for operations and projects without putting humans in deep water. Autonomous systems are protecting seafaring vessels and their crews. Researchers are learning more about the state of vital ecosystems with ocean data. As we sail into an uncertain future, unlocking the potential of ocean technology could make the difference.