This announcement is not an offer of securities and appears as a matter of record only. The securities referred to herein have not been and will not be registered under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and may not be offered or sold in the U.S., except pursuant to an applicable exemption from registration.
Sydney, Australia – 20 April 2017, 2017. On 20 April, 2017, UUV Aquabotix Ltd (Aquabotix) announced that it was undertaking an initial public offering (IPO) on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). The maximum subscription under the IPO had been set at A$7,000,000 (approximately US$5,500,000). The maximum subscription was substantially exceeded in the IPO, and the IPO has now closed substantially oversubscribed. Investors will be advised of the degree (if any) to which their applications for shares have been scaled back, in the coming days.
Durval Tavares, Aquabotix’s CEO, commented “Following the commencement of the ASX trading, Aquabotix will be the first and only dedicated underwater drone publicly-traded company globally. The level of interest in the industry and in our company that has been shown by institutional and retail investors in Australia and internationally during the IPO has validated the six years of work that have gone into placing Aquabotix into this leadership position. We look forward to building on our recent substantial growth in this nascent and rapidly-developing industry, utilizing the proceeds from this successful IPO.”
UUV Aquabotix Ltd (Aquabotix) is a unique and established underwater robotics company. It manufactures commercial/industrial grade Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (also known as “UUVs” and “underwater drones”) and commercial/industrial networked underwater cameras. Aquabotix’s four product lines (and ten product models) are highly differentiated from the limited competition. They are simple to use, highly functional, and inexpensive. Importantly, Aquabotix is one of very few companies globally with a “hybrid” UUV solution, which is capable of both autonomous and remote human operation.
Unlike most of its purported competition, Aquabotix’s products are not just a concept. Aquabotix has shipped approximately 350 underwater drones since sales commenced in 2011. Its sales were approximately A$1,100,000 (US$800,000) in the calendar 2016, up approximately 80% relative to the calendar 2015. Industry analysts have estimated that the addressable market Aquabotix operates in will be approximately US$4 billion in 2020.
UUVs are used in a number of industries – defence, law enforcement, public safety, marina and boat underwater inspection, marine inspection and construction, port security, pipeline inspection, aquaculture, potable water management, and research and marine biology. Customers who have purchased Aquabotix’s products include BP, ConEdison, Duke Energy, Broadspectrum, California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS), Pittsburgh Tank & Tower Group, U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
In the defence industry in particular, Aquabotix plans to build on its past orders from the U.S. Navy. On 5 December 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it planned to invest as much as US$3 billion in an effort to build and field UUVs for surveillance operations. This is particularly relevant given that the U.S. Defense Science Board has recently publicly recommended that the Navy adopt commercial grade assets and deploy “larger numbers of low-cost assets” in the undersea domain, where, according to the Defense Science Board, “quantity has a quality of its own.” A recent Bloomberg Government article has specifically singled out Aquabotix’s and one other company’s products as the kind of commercial products that may be relevant to this doctrine of commercial product adoption in the unmanned Navy space.
Aquabotix’s board and management team include high profile industry executives, including:
Chief Financial Officer
Tel: +61 (0)2 8226 8665
In the world of remote-operated vehicles (ROVs), there are two basic elements to every deployed vehicle: a hardware platform, and a software platform. Typically in the not-so-distant past, a company that developed computer-related products (like a computer-controlled ROV, for example) would develop proprietary hardware and then either write proprietary software to control the hardware, or hire someone else to write the software. Apple Computers was (and is) a good example of the first kind of company: they design and produce their own computers, smartphones, and tablets, and they also create and maintain their own enormous codebase of operating systems and application programs to run that hardware.
There are merits in that approach; controlling the software enables a tighter control of the user experience, and for some products that’s not always a terrible idea. However, many companies – including Aquabotix – have embraced a different model of development. At Aquabotix, we create proprietary hardware using our own designs, and we control how that hardware is built and sold – but for the software side of things, we rely on a vast community network of innovators and developers, a community that we participate in but that we do not control. This development model is known as “open source” and you’ve probably heard of it.
All Aquabotix ROVs are controlled via software written using the MOOS-IvP platform. MOOS-IvP stands for "Mission Oriented Operating Suite - Interval Programming.” (Marketers did not name this software platform.) MOOS-IvP is a world-class suite of open-source C++ modules used to manage and control autonomous robotic platforms, particularly marine ROVs. The MOOS-IvP program is administered by MIT via their Department of Mechanical Engineering and their Center for Ocean Engineering. MOOS-IvP development is done by programmers all over the world – some at MIT, some at other academic institutions, some hobbyists, and of course, a large number of technical professionals at various companies and organizations deploying ROVs, including Aquabotix. We take the MOOS-IvP modules as the starting point, write wrapper code to provide a nicer GUI for the user experience, and add some custom functionality, but in essence the MOOS-IvP code is the operating guts of our ROV software package.
So what are the advantages of taking the open-source approach to the software that controls our ROVs? There are a number of them. Some of these advantages mainly benefit Aquabotix (or other companies using the same development approach), some mainly benefit our customers, and some make the experience better for everybody.
The first advantage is security. It seems ironic to people who don’t know how software development works, but making software open-source makes it LESS vulnerable to hacking or security defects, not more, even though would-be “bad guys” can look at the code base. The reason is that because *everyone* can look at the code base, many more sets of eyeballs look at every possible defect.
Another major advantage is customization. Because the core set of control modules is easily modifiable, Aquabotix can tweak the software to take full advantage of specific hardware features that we add. In addition, our customers can take control of the software experience themselves and code unique features or modules to handle their specific missions or address their special needs. It’s a wide-open platform, but with a ton of expert advice ready to hand.
A third advantage is interoperability. Interoperability means being able to interface with a variety of operating systems, file formats, interface specifications, etc. For example, Aquabotix has chosen to support controlling our ROVs via an iPad tablet, or via a Windows app. Other users of the MOOS IvP platform may decide to work via Android devices, or Unix mainframes for that matter. The choice is up to the user; the underlying software platform is open to interface with any modern operating system.
A final major advantage: cost. MOOS-IvP, like many open-source platforms, is free. That means that Aquabotix does not have to pay high licensing fees to develop code using MOOS-IvP, or pay ongoing royalties for each ROV that we sell. We are able to pass those savings along to the customer, enabling us to offer world-class recreational and professional ROVs at market-leading prices.
The advantages of the open-source development process over proprietary methods are leading more and more companies to adopt this innovative new way of producing new and exciting products. We are very proud of the hardware platform that we have created in our line of top-quality ROVs, and the software suite that we have developed to control them is more powerful, more user-friendly, and provides more value for the dollar, thanks to the open-source idea.
(For more information on the MOOS-IvP platform, visit their home page at http://oceanai.mit.edu/moos-ivp/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.HomePage)
One of the most exciting areas of development for underwater remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) is their use in marine research. For decades, purpose-built (and generally large) ROVs like POODLE (the first real ROV, deployed in 1953) were on the forefront of oceanographic research work. Marine scientists did not generally use commercially-developed mass-produced ROVs until relatively recently – mainly because the mass-produced ROVs didn’t exist yet! They exist now, and the unique combination of affordability and standardization ROVs offer is now helping researchers push back the frontiers of knowledge in a number of exciting research fields.
One key area of research is the field of robotics itself – coordinating fleets of tiny ROVs is a new and unprecedented challenge for scientists at sea. Even more challenging is processing the terabytes of data that even a relatively modest quantity of ROVs can collect in a short period of time. A 2015 expedition by the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Falkor to the remote Scott Reef in the Timor Sea, led by a team of University of Sydney scientists, deployed an eclectic flotilla of robotic vehicles, including gliders, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), autonomous surface vessels (ASVs) and Lagrangian floats, and autonomous surface vessels (ASVs). The AUVs were used to take water measurements at different depths, the ASVs and gliders collected data on surface conditions, and the floats measured currents, water salinity and temperature, and other data.
Just in visual imagery alone, the Falkor collected some 400,000 images over a two-week period, about a terabyte every day. To gain insight into the meaning of the data they had collected, the team developed a web-based tool named Squidle, which crowdsources data analysis and lets the general public help teach computers how to interpret visual imagery. (You can learn more about Squidle at https://squidle.acfr.usyd.edu.au/) Another development of note from the Falkor expedition was the creation of a web-based tool to allow researchers to visualize the known positions of an entire fleet of ROVs in real-time using any Internet-connected device, such as a PC or smartphone.
Oceanic research on climate is one of the most critically important areas of science operating today. The challenge of global warming is tightly bound to our understanding of the Earth’s global ocean, and more visually spectacular catastrophic events like tsunamis and hurricanes emphasize the pressing need for deeper understanding of the oceanic climate. As one example, a Wave Glider ROV was collecting routine environmental data in the South China Sea in July of 2014 when it encountered Typhoon Rammasun, a lethal ocean storm with 10-meter high waves and winds approaching 200 miles per hour. The Wave Glider, tiny yet extremely rugged, rode out the storm without trouble and collected amazing data about the behavior of the ocean in response to the event. Fleets of ROVs could collect many times that amount of information, allowing unprecedented progress in areas like storm prediction and tracking. It’s not just data that can be collected – ROVs can retrieve water samples from anywhere in the ocean. (Aquabotix offers a water sample collector on the Endura line.)
The use of ROVs to monitor the health and size of fish populations has been under development for quite some time in the aquaculture field. Now researchers are drawing lessons from that work and applying it to help save the Great Barrier Reef. The GBR, a collection of almost 2000 reefs scattered across more than 130,000 square miles of ocean, faces a number of threats, including climate change and water quality problems, but scientists agree that the incursion of the Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS), a nightmare coral predator, is the Reef’s greatest immediate challenge. Scientists estimate that in the last twenty years, COTS population explosions have led to the destruction of about 40 percent of the Reef’s coral.
Monitoring the COTS populations was an important step, but monitoring alone can’t get anything done. Australians have operated hunting vessels to try to slow the advance of COTS populations, but even killing 400,000 COTS per year, as one anti-COTS diving team has done, is barely holding the COTS threat at a status quo level. Robotics researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, supported by a $750,000 AUS grant from the Google Impact Challenge Australia, have developed an ROV capable of hunting down and annihilating COTS. The prototype, dubbed “COTSBot,” is capable of operating autonomously, cruising a few feet above the coral reef using five integrated thrusters, scanning the surface of the coral and looking for COTS going about their nefarious business. When the robot spots a COTS – with a 99% accuracy rate – it swoops down and uses a robotic arm to inject the creature with a 20 ml vinegar solution, which kills it instantly. By mass deploying COTSBots in threatened areas of the reef, scientists hope not to just stem the incursion of the COTS, but to keep their population down to a manageable level.
The scientific work, both theoretical and applied, that oceangoing ROVs can support is critically important to both the health of the global environment, and to our growing ability to explore and understand the 95+ percent of the oceans that have not yet been genuinely explored. As always, human researchers and explorers will be irreplaceable in those efforts, but the addition of robotic assistance and tools in the form of ROVs will make their work vastly more effective, affordable, and effective.
Ask a remote-operated-vehicle (ROV) aficionado what industries these handy little tools have had the most impact on, and the answers will be varied and interesting. Some will immediately name fisheries and aquaculture, where ROVs let even small operators put mobile, flexible, sensor-enhanced eyes on even their most remote underwater operations. Others would favor the transportation industry, where ROVs make major contributions to port security and vessel hull inspections. Relatively few people, however, unless they had industry knowledge backing them up, would name one of the industries where ROVs have had a major and still growing impact: energy production.
To be sure, the energy market is an enormous and enormously varied set of operations, and it is true that ROVs play a small or nonexistent role in many of the industry’s subfields. Nobody expects ROVs to be a major player in coal mines, for example (though they are handy in investigating flooded sections of mine, a very hazardous condition where nobody wants to risk a human diver…)
There are three basic areas in which ROVs play a major role: installation and investigation of offshore windfarms. Installation and investigation of the hydraulic systems of nuclear plants, and inspections of dams – many types of dams, of course, but most relevant here are the major construction achievements that produce local electrical generating capacity, i.e. hydropower.
You may notice something rather fundamental about these three parts of the energy industry: they are all carbon-neutral or low-carbon energy production systems, and thus are important tools in reducing global warming.
Hydropower is among the oldest approaches to renewable energy, and is far older than its relatively recent adaptation to produce electricity. Preindustrial civilizations have used the power of running water to pump water uphill, to irrigate crops, and to turn machinery. In modern times, giant hydroprojects like the Hoover Dam produce thousands of megawatts of electrical power, enough to serve millions of households, at a relatively reasonable environmental cost. Unfortunately, while the Earth has plenty of water and plenty of gravity, the requirements of hydropower for particular configurations of these resources means that the generating capacity of the natural world is more or less known, and fixed – and the “good spots” are already taken. Hydropower produces more than 1,000 Gigawatts (that’s a thousand megawatts) – about a sixth of the world’s total generating capability. Because hydropower generally requires building large dams that hold enormous quantities of water – usually conveniently located just upstream of enormous population centers – the safety monitoring and maintenance of the dam system is of the utmost priority. ROVs, of course, bring the costs of maintenance and inspection down drastically, further increasing the economic sensibility of hydropower as one of the major components of the global energy economy.
In the eyes of many, nuclear power could not be more diametrically opposed to hydropower. But in fact, depending on your point of view, a number of fundamental similarities are clear. First, although neither hydropower or nuclear power are free of environmental costs, those costs tend to be fixed cost that arise from having the industry exist at all, not costs that double every time the installed generating base doubles. Second, both nuclear and hydropower are baseline generation systems, meaning that they are always available. Third, both forms of generation tend to have catastrophic, but extremely rare, failure cases. If Hoover Dam bursts, an entire downstream city will die. If a Soviet-era nuclear plant goes critical, half of Eastern Europe could be irradiated. This combination of low expenses, high reliability, and rare disaster cases encourage us to think of these forms of power as being *perfectly* reliable, when in fact they are anything but. How to push those systems towards increased stability? Again, with more frequent and more capable monitoring.
If hydropower is the revered ancestor, still trusted but unable to keep up with the demands of his hungry children, and nuclear power is the disliked but economically essential rich cousin whose fortune keeps the family from starvation, then surely offshore windpower is the angsty, emotionally involved younger sibling – a source of infinite potential and hope for the future that is, unfortunately, wrapped in often problematic presentation right now. Windpower has an enormously high undeveloped potential for power generation, at an environmental cost that is minimal if not negligible. (Just the surface layers of the atmosphere could generate 20 times the current TOTAL human energy usage.) Unfortunately, as with hydropower, the easy spots – that is, the places where a huge turbine farm isn’t out of place - are being used for other projects. And that means that wind power has to move offshore, where the real estate tends to be heavily discounted on account of being a thousand feet beneath the ocean. And although it’s possible for us to build infrastructure in the ocean on this scale, it’s not cheap and it’s not easy – and again enter ROVs, keeping costs down, keeping human divers out of harm’s way, and providing more information for project engineers about safety and performance.
It would be an exaggeration to say that without ROVs, we can’t get to a lower-carbon, warming-mitigated world economy. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all to say that ROVs are making major contribution to the energy economy’s attempt to get us over the carbon-footprint hill and into the low-carbon, high-energy promised land.
One of the most common uses for commercial underwater remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) is in conducting inspections of water tanks, ship hulls, and submerged infrastructure such as bridge components or dams. A critical element of these inspections is measuring the thickness of metal components like hulls or girders. How do ROVs conduct this type of measurement?
On the Aquabotix Endura line of high-performance commercial ROVs, we offer the Cygnus NDT Metal Thickness gauge as an optional accessory. These gauges use ultrasound technology to measure the thickness of metal objects underwater. By emitting an ultrasonic beam into the surface of the metal and analyzing the return sound, the Cygnus NDT can measure metal of thicknesses up to 10”, even through coatings such as paint up to 0.787” thick.
The Cygnus NDT is extremely easy to use. The included CygLink software allows the ROV operator to visualize the tool’s measurements remotely on the video feed. To make things even easier, the optional Cygnus Probe Handler automatically aligns the probe to the wall or item being measured, with 15 degrees of movement, even if the operator has not perfectly approached the measurement subject.
Tools like the Cygnus greatly enhance the utility of our Endura ROVs. As ROVs take on more responsible roles in things like underwater inspections, the need for tools such as the Cygnus will continue to grow.
The concept of “the last frontier” is one frequently bandied about by popular writers. Whether the phrase refers to the Western frontier of American expansion in centuries past, or specific “hot” fields of scientific inquiry, or the vast expanse of interplanetary and interstellar space, the concept is always the same: there’s one Great Mysterious Place left for us to go, and (“fill in the blank”) is that Place.
It turns out that frontiers don’t work like that. It’s true that sometimes a constraint closes off further exploration of a place; once the American border reached the Pacific Ocean, there wasn’t a whole lot of Old West left to “discover.” (The people who had already been living there for 10,000 years probably knew that.) But it’s far more common to find that expansion and discovery are never-ending, that new exploration is always worthwhile, that there is always something more over the horizon.
Or under it. For centuries – actually, for millennia - the world ocean of our planet has been a vast empty space on the map. Explorers skimmed its surface looking for new land-based opportunity, and merchants and warriors fought along its peripheries for access to new markets and new resources on the lands that the ocean adjoins. What lay beneath has been a murky question mark – a question mark hard to find, harder to reach, and almost impossible to exploit.
Technological progress is rapidly revising that predicament. The earliest historically-attested submersible vehicles, built in the 1600s, could attain depths of less than a hundred feet, in calm waters, for periods of a few minutes at best – and couldn’t see or do much while they were down there. Today’s bathyspheres, submarines, and advanced remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) have reached the uttermost depths of the ocean floor, can move at up to 40 miles per hour underwater, can stay submerged for weeks or even months, and can visualize and interact with environmental features and objects with a huge variety of tools. The ocean, while not “the last frontier” (because we aren’t likely to run out of those), is now a frontier which is eminently accessible.
It’s a frontier with resources that humanity desperately needs. The potential is almost infinite – fully three-quarters of the surface of our world is under the ocean. And although much of the ocean floor is theoretically “barren” – not much growing there, not much living there – there are subsurface resources almost beyond cataloguing. In fact, we haven’t even begun to catalogue them – they’ve been too hard to reach! But as that is changing, the potential for energy resources – oil and gas just to start, although uranium and thorium are more likely to be long-term contributors to the global economy – is vast. Already, about a sixth of US oil production comes from offshore and the numbers are building quickly. Deep-water oil formations have barely begun to be explored, and although there are environmental considerations, the ocean is likely to produce the majority of world energy needs within our lifetimes.
There is also tremendous potential for health and wellness from the undersea environment. In today’s pharmaceutical environment, many dramatic developments in new treatments and new drugs come from exploitation of newly-discovered species. For example, a promising breast-cancer drug is under development from a species of Japanese black sponge, while a bacteria found in the Bahamas has been shown to produce compounds that can be used to produce antibiotics and cancer-fighting drugs. What’s even more exciting is that an estimated 90% of oceanic species have not yet been discovered or catalogued – the extent of this incredible harvest of potential medical advances is literally waiting to be discovered.
In 2016, the Expedition and Education Foundation, an anonymous charitable organization established to support marine research, funded the University of Southampton’s Black Sea Maritime Archeological (MAP) Project, the largest project “of its type ever undertaken.” This project was designed to survey the Bulgarian waters of the Black Sea, where thousands of years ago, large areas of land were submerged due to rising sea levels as the last ice age was ending.
The Black Sea was much smaller 12,000 years ago, and the project was designed to study what significant historical treasures were inundated by water, as glaciers melted and sea levels rose, and how these rising waters affected the human populations along the shorelines of the Black Sea.
John Adams, of the University of Southampton, led the team of archeologists and researchers in this study. The main instruments used to map the Black Sea floor were two specially designed ROVs or remote operated (underwater) vehicles. These ROVs are basically tethered underwater devices with instrument arrays, and are unoccupied and highly maneuverable. They are operated remotely from the mother ship, in this case, the Stril Explorer. On this expedition, MAP archaeologists lowered the two ROV’s to hunt for ancient shipwrecks and lost history.
When interviewed, Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton said he was watching the monitors one night in September when the ROV lit up a large wreck in a high state of preservation. “I was speechless,” he said. “When I saw the ropes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still can’t.” He was describing a beautifully carved, perfectly intact rudder with a coil of ropes hanging off one of the ships timbers. At the depths of this discovery, the oxygen levels are so low as to prevent any microorganisms from feeding on the wood timbers.
The remarkable color images of these wrecks are a result of the union of the ROV’s 2D images and cutting edge software, which uses photogrammetry, turning thousands of 2D images into 3D renderings. These are translated into the phenomenal final renderings of these wrecks, which look like actual photographs. The tethered ROV cameras shoot video and still photos using distance information from advanced sonars, with measurements often less than a millimeter. The software layers these images to produce incredibly realistic 3D digital models of entire shipwrecks that would normally only be barely seen from the top in the visible light spectrum.
The ships have been determined to be from the 9th century through the 19th century, spanning a thousand years of sea trade and travel. Goods traded on the Black Sea included grains, furs, horses, oils, cloth, wine and people. For Europeans, the Black Sea provided access to a branch of the Silk Road and the importation of silk, satin, musk, perfumes, spices and jewels. It is possible that Marco Polo was traveling this route when some of these ships sank around the 13th century.
Two other important elements of the MAP project are Education and Documentary. Eight students of school age were selected to join the science team on board in order to experience and even participate in many of the procedures. The documenting of this entire project is placed in the capable hands of Black Sea Films. Just as the science involved in this MAP project is cutting-edge, so is its filming, for the Black Sea Films team includes those who created the award-winning BBC series Blue Planet and Planet Earth.
The MAP findings of these ancient shipwrecks from the Byzantine and Ottoman Eras is the most significant underwater archeological discovery of this century and demonstrates how effective partnerships between academia and industry can be, especially when funded by enlightened bodies such as EEF.
AquaSur regularly makes a splash in the aquaculture world at its semiannual conferences. It's the most distinguished gathering of its kind in the Southern hemisphere, with major players in the field attending. In October 2016, Aquabotix CEO Durval Tavares traveled to Chile to take part in the AquaSur 2016 conference, which explored the present and future of ROVs in aquaculture and more. Over its four days, the conference accommodated 22,400 visitors representing 42 countries. Attendees included representatives from other ROV companies, food producers, medical companies, and chemical companies. By the end of the conference, there was widespread recognition that robotics was the wave of the future for keeping fish healthy and ensuring the livelihood of those in the aquaculture business.
Puerto Montt, Chile, hosted the event. Chile employs 80,000 people in its aquaculture industry, and is currently looking to expand the industry along the country’s northern coast. To encourage growth and safety in the aquaculture sector, pending legislation will likely encourage the use of ROVs to protect the environment. Using ROVs is a safer way to look underwater, especially inside nets, for problems that could affect the fish and nets. With the potential grown of ROV use in Chile and other countries with aquaculture industries, Aquabotix and its Chilean distributor TekChile, had an interested audience for showcasing various products from the Aquabotix line.
Outside the conference, separate events featured demonstrations of the ROVs from Aquabotix. These demonstrations greatly impressed those who saw substantial benefits over currently offered technology. The main advantages for farm operations of these products included the stability of the Endura and maneuverability. Thruster power was especially intriguing for the operators because it was unlike anything they'd seen. The Endura can be configured specifically for aquaculture with five standard thrusters, side thrusters, and a high output option. These attributes of Aquabotix's ROVs mean that these devices, and other ROVs like them, are predicted to not only be a perfect fit for the future of aquaculture but also a necessity as demand increases for fish and other water-grown products. Operators can use the extra thrusting power so the vehicle can be used in high currents compared to their current products.
The conference was a good time to illustrate the innovations represented by products such as the AquaLens Connect. Attendees at the conference discussed ways to reduce waste and cost, and underwater monitoring with the AquaLens Connect is a clear solution to these issues. The future of aquaculture will rely more on remote monitoring of nets and facilities as the industry expands. With remote monitoring, several sites can be watched at once, from a single screen, reducing the necessity for needing multiple people to watch several locations at once. The AquaLens Connect allows up to 32 cameras to be connected in a network for simultaneous viewing, and because the cameras are not static, a wider field of view is available to each camera. With pan and tilt of 120 degrees in each direction, a single camera can show a wide range of underwater space. When coupled with the unique abilities of an ROV, such as Endura's fish plow that removes dead fish, these devices make operations more profitable and safer for the employees and the fish.
The future of aquaculture is now, and ROVs and underwater cameras are on the forefront of the technology farm operators need to progress. By keeping up with the changing industry, and participating in exciting events like AquaSur 2016, Aquabotix will help our customers stay on the forefront of the evolving technical landscape.
Aquaculture and fisheries are a major source of the world’s protein production, and while fisheries are stagnating somewhat due to overconsumption, aquaculture production is growing at tremendous rates. As aquaculture facilities fill in the most desirable coastal locations, it is a certainty that future growth will take place in deeper water, where use of human labor will be more expensive and much more dangerous. One major job that will require significant automation in order to be economically practical is monitoring the aquaculture facility.
Aquaculture facilities require careful monitoring of a number of important parameters. The environment itself needs to be monitored for water quality, temperature, current, and so forth. Operators also need to be able to inspect hardware such as nets and cages, to count fish in particular enclosures, to locate dead fish, to check nutrient levels, to measure fish stress levels, and more. All of this information gathering is often done by human labor at onshore or shallow-water facilities, but that is impractical when the aquaculture facility is far offshore. Operators can’t hire from the local community when the local community is underwater – they have to use automated remote monitoring technology. Even in facilities where human labor is available, the cost and liability requirements of human workers will make automated remote monitoring a useful adjunct.
A number of different types of remote sensor can be used to monitor aquaculture operations, but one of the most generally useful instruments is also one of the simplest: a video camera. High-definition video cameras can capture a wide range of data both above the water and beneath the surface. Advances in robot vision, that is, the ability of computers to understand and utilize video feeds, mean that a huge number of video camera feeds can be interpreted by computerized systems. The aquaculture base can monitor types and numbers of fish in an area, examine nets and gates for damage, scan the bottom underneath fixed pens to check contamination levels, and even assess the weather pattern. AquaLens Connect, the underwater camera system from Aquabotix, has been built to withstand and excel in these challenging conditions. It features a full 1080p HD video with live view, push button recording, pan and tilt.
Aquaculture requires a great deal of management and assessment to be effective and profitable. Feed levels have to be continually adjusted to prevent excessive buildup of nutrients in the wastewater, fish populations have to be counted and their health checked, incursions from predators have to be seen to be mitigated, and physical infrastructure, always susceptible to storm damage, has to be kept in trim through regular inspection and maintenance. All of these tasks require that the aquaculture operator be aware of the condition of the facility. Stationary video cameras, as well as ROV-based roving cameras, provide a cost-effective means of achieving this goal.
There’s just something about robots.
Kids today grew up with robots represented in half the TV shows, books, and movies they were exposed to. The older generation remembers a childhood of R2-D2 and C3P0 – and their parents, in turn, remember Robbie the Robot, Klaatu, and other spectacular pulp-era automatons. Robots immediately seize the attention and fire the imagination of children in a way no other technology can.
We recently attended the Southcoast MA Mini Makers Faire, held near our Massachusetts headquarters, and saw first-hand how blazingly excited kids got with exposure to robots. Fortunately, the beneficial influence of studying robotics goes way beyond maker’s fairs and trade shows. Robotics may, in fact, be the key to inspiring the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) researchers, workers, and entrepreneurs.
There is a developing crisis in the STEM field. Employment analysts expect that by 2018 there will be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the United States alone – and new STEM jobs are desperately needed. In fact, STEM fields will grow almost twice as fast as conventional areas of employment in this decade. Higher education is doing its part, but the fact is that inspiring young kids to go into STEM fields is the key to ensuring that the American workforce is up to the challenge of dealing with a high-tech economy.
And that may well be where the robots come in. Research shows that engagement with STEM concepts in early childhood and elementary school is practical – the kids can grasp the ideas – and effective. Specifically, out-of-school activities that engage the attention of young kids are very likely to create a lifelong pattern of seeking new knowledge and activity in those same fields. Kids who do something educational *as a hobby on their own time* are clearly hooked. Robotics, as it happens, is an area where even very young kids can do meaningful work, and they will fight to get at the materials and lessons they need to do it.
One area of strong fit between robots and early childhood education is that the elementary school period is a time when kids are having to learn reading and abstract symbol manipulation skills – critical skills to have, obviously – but what they really want to do is to be hands-on, kinetic, to draw and to shape and to create physical objects. Working with robots encourages both the abstract skills that they need (but often aren’t terribly excited by) and expressing those skills with hands-on tinkering and mechanical work. Most of the math and science education in the lower grades is entirely theoretical – robotics allows kids to put what they are learning to direct, immediate application.
Fortunately, the robotics industry is well aware of how critically important it is to get the youngest new learners excited about robots. There is a vast wealth of resources available to schools and educational programs for designing, creating, and deploying robotics projects. Many of these programs are cast as competitions, such as the Wonder League Robotics Competition, where kids from 6 to 12 can compete in a series of events by sending in videos of their robots successfully completing a series of challenges. The Wonder League events focus on programming. The Vex IQ Challenge, for elementary and middle schoolers, focuses more on robot operations, while the First Lego League Jr., for kids age 6 to 10, is naturally all about the building. There are many other programs and events in a similar vein.
Class time in schools is, of course, a natural incubation point for STEM education, and robotics works well as the framework in which to teach a wide variety of STEM concepts. Teachers report that teaching robotics requires kids to look at complex systems made up of multiple parts, to design and connect those systems themselves, which teaches real-world problem solving. The kids are, of course, highly motivated because they are learning by doing, rather than by listening to a teacher talk. And kids who learn best on their own can do so even outside of the school environment with consumer systems like Lego MindStorms, a fully-functioning robotic development kit using Lego blocks for implementation.
No single concept is going to be a magic bullet that solves our shortage of STEM workers. It will take a lot of different ideas, and a lot of different initiatives, to get to where we need to be. It’s clear, though, that robotics is an area with vast potential to inspire young minds to innovate and design the world of the future.