Ocean Infinity Exploration Company Goes For Robot Boats At Scale


Ocean Infinity Exploration Company Goes For Robot Boats At Scale

The maritime and scientific communities have set themselves the ambitious target of 2030 to map Earth’s entire ocean floor.

It’s ambitious because, 10 years out from this deadline, they’re starting from a very low level.

You can argue about the numbers but it’s in the region of 80% of the global seafloor that’s either completely unknown or has had no modern measurement applied to it.

The international GEBCO 2030 project was set up to close the data gap and has announced a number of initiatives to get it done.

What’s clear, however, is that much of this work will have to leverage new technologies or at the very least max the existing ones. Which makes the news from Ocean Infinity – that it’s creating a fleet of ocean-going robots – all the more interesting.

US-based OI is a relatively new exploration and survey company. It was founded in 2016.

It’s made headlines by finding some high-profile wrecks, including the Argentinian submarine San Juan and the South Korean bulk carrier Stellar Daisy. It also led an ultimately unsuccessful “no find, no fee” effort to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

OI’s strategy has always been to throw the latest hardware and computing power at a problem. The move into Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USV) at scale is therefore the logical next step, says CEO Oliver Plunkett.


“We’ve ordered 11 robots, different sizes. The smallest ones are 21m; the biggest are up to 37m,” he told BBC News. “They will be capable of transoceanic journeys, wholly unmanned, controlled from control centres on land.

“Each of them will be fitted out with an array of sensors and equipment, but also their own capability to deploy tethered robots to inspect right down to the bottom of the ocean, 6,000m below the surface.”

The boats will be used to search for missing objects, yes; but they’ll also inspect pipelines, and survey bed conditions for telecoms cables and off-shore wind farms. They’ll even to do freight, says Dan Hook who’ll run the robot fleet for OI under the spin-out name of Armada.

“The 37m will actually take about 60 tonnes of deck cargo. We’re looking at logistics services in places like the North Sea, running containers out to oil and gas platforms.”

And with every USV equipped with a hull-mounted, multi-beam echo-sounder, the boats have the potential to add to the global seafloor database.

Armada will be based in the Southampton area of the UK’s South Coast. Or at least, that’s where the main control room will be. The boats themselves will be positioned around the world, along with a small number of maintenance staff.

Mirrors – Justin Timberlake (Lyrics)

When a mission is instigated, the Southampton operator (or an operator in an identical control centre in Austin, Texas) will drive the vehicle out of port, maintaining command and situational awareness through satellite links.

We’ve already seen something similar come out of the recent Shell Ocean Discovery XPrize, which sought to find a range of innovative seafloor mapping technologies.

Ocean Infinity Exploration Company Goes For Robot Boats At Scale


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