Olaoluwa Oderinde, Graduate Research Assistant, Division of Marine Science, M.Sc. Hydrographic Science, University of Southern Mississippi, USA.
The world as we know it is composed mostly of water taking up to 70%, which poses a great need for monitoring and sustainability. The world oceans are vast with significant developments in underwater technology to explore and unravel resources in the deep ocean, mapping of biodiversity, and collection of data from the sea surface to the deep ocean basins necessary for sustaining the ocean and providing data crucial to various industries from shipping to navy and commercial use. The OCEANS Conference and Exposition 2021, a hybrid event (virtual and in-person), which was organized by the Marine Technology Society (MTS) & IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (OES), was held at San Diego, California, and Porto, Portugal and it witnessed a crowd of great minds and experts in the industry gathered to shed light on recent developments and breakthroughs in the underwater technology for mapping and acquiring information about the world’s ocean and its environments.
I was fortunate enough to attend the virtual aspect of the conference, thanks to the support of the University of Southern Mississippi Chapter of IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society, and I can say it was worth every time spent. The conference was packed with numerous activities including plenary sessions, the exhibition of products and services, and workshops spanning different topics and issues faced in the marine industry and on how best to tackle these problems. The conference theme was centered around the sustainability of the oceans as a way of sustaining our future. A total of 485 papers from 389 authors were accepted for the conference. These submissions were centered around three major topics: Innovative Technologies and Commercial Products for Ocean Development and Exploration, Innovative Academic Research and Scientific Studies, and Investment Opportunities for Ocean science technologies.
The US Navy, represented by Carly Jackson, NAVWAR Chief Technology Officer, gave a presentation on the involvement of the US Navy in Ocean Sustainability and the importance of climate change. It was evident that they currently focus on advancing marine technologies with a low carbon footprint, and endurance and survival capabilities in harsh marine environments, while providing ocean observations for climate risk analysis and conservation studies for marine protected areas. A quote that struck my attention was by Rear Admiral Selby, Chief of Naval Research, which stated that “Understanding the environment we work in helps us maintain our tactical advantage”, which iterates all we are saying about the importance of ocean sustainability and exploration.
The session on the role of marine robotics for the sustainable blue economy was the session I found most interesting due to my interest in underwater technologies (AUVs and ASVs). In recent years, marine robotics has seen drastic technological advancement for ocean mapping, data collection, and analysis. It is pivotal in solving complex data collection issues in unfavorable sea states. The session focused on the increasing demand for marine robotics and how it plays a big role in ocean sustainability. The session was graced with panelists from the industry and academia. It had the likes of Steve Brodet of Kongsberg Maritime, David Jones of Saildrone, Josh Wells CEO of Planck AeroSystems, Clara Hulburt of Teledyne, etc. Saildrone, an American-owned company that manufactures uncrewed vehicles, has been successful in collecting in-situ oceanographic and climatic data above and below the sea surface, providing significant improvement in the methods of data collection in remote areas. The uncrewed systems help to provide accurate assessments for fish stocks with sensors mounted onboard and the accuracy is attributed to its low noise emission. These systems are also supporting the offshore wind farm industry with seabed mapping to support construction, thereby aiding the growth of the blue economy. Planck AeroSystems is a company specialized in the development and production of unmanned aircraft systems and utilizing machine learning techniques for Whale Strike mitigations. They specialize in mapping shifts in migratory patterns of whales due to climate changes through the analysis of images captured by the aircraft system rover sensor.
The advent of marine robotics removed the old method of manning aircraft with equipment for taking pictures and solely relies on robotics and machine learning algorithms for data collection, processing, and analysis. A significant improvement in their technology is the capability to sort thousands of ultra-high-resolution images and classify whales on the pre-processed images and only upload the required species to the server, thereby reducing the time of data upload. However, these processes are faced with some challenges that affect the accuracy of the classification algorithms, hence, the need for algorithm optimization, augmentation, and post-processing. An interesting mention would be a question asked by one of the conference participants regarding marine robotics increasing unemployment through the reduction in manpower and physical presence. The question was answered by one of the panelists with a statement saying, “there would always be a need for personnel to monitor the robots, configure the system and perform analysis and QC checks on the data acquired.” I believe marine technologists must be updated with current technologies and technical procedures to maximize the capabilities of these robots and rovers. With the world constantly evolving in the digital age, there would also be a need for skilled personnel to program and design these marine robots. Then the question to put out there is “would you be willing to acquire the necessary skills and training needed as the world evolves?”