Exploring the Open Oceans

Photo © Courtesy of Open Ocean Robotics

Julie Angus, CEO and Co-Founder of Open Ocean Robotics, Talks Climate, Marine Robotics, and Women in Business
Photo © Courtesy of Open Ocean Robotics

The oceans are full of information—from data that can help protect at-risk species, to the most fuel-efficient routes for ships, to measuring changes in the oceans so that scientists can better understand the effects of climate change. However, much of the ocean’s data remains unknown—it is estimated that more than 80 percent of our oceans are unmapped and unexplored.

A lifelong adventurer and the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean from mainland to mainland, Julie Angus co-founded Open Oceans Robotics to help explore the unexplored using autonomous energy-harvesting boats equipped with sensors and cameras. These boats, produced by Open Ocean Robotics, are used to make oceanic observations and instantly relay them safely and efficiently, transforming the way we explore and understand our oceans.

We sat down with Julie to talk about how she got started, where marine robotics is headed, and what we should all know about our oceans.

Take us back to where it all started! How did you go from planning solar-powered boats to exploring the open oceans?

In 2005/2006, my fiancée, Colin, and I rowed across the Atlantic Ocean from Portugal to Costa Rica. Little did we know it would turn out to be the worst hurricane season on record, and we were hit by two hurricanes during the five-month journey. Being in a rowboat in a hurricane hundreds of kilometres from land is both terrifying and eye-opening. I came to two realizations on that voyage: the ocean can be a very dangerous place for humans, and it is a vastly complex ecosystem that needs to be protected. Unfortunately, the challenges of being on the ocean and its sheer vastness also makes it difficult to understand and protect. My time on the ocean made me realize that human-less boats could do many of the tasks currently being done with big ships at a fraction of the cost, more safely, and with a vastly smaller environmental footprint. Our robotic boats do just that, collecting data necessary to protect and understand the oceans, which includes protecting against illegal fishing, monitoring endangered whale populations, and mapping the seafloor.

You’re working on creating a digital ocean using Open Ocean boats. What is the connection between climate change and mapping the oceans? How do Open Ocean vessels contribute to the fight against climate change?

Creating a digital ocean is about collecting data autonomously through technology like our robot boat Data Xplorer. Our boats can travel the ocean for months at a time, powered only by the sun, and send back the collected data by satellite. We can also work with submersible drones that collect underwater data or aerial drones that take measurements from the sky. This gives us the ability to create a 3D picture of what is going on in the ocean, from the seafloor to the sky. We help combat climate change by offering an emission-free solution to collecting this data, reducing the need for traditional ships or aircraft, and collecting data essential to mitigating the impact of climate change.

© Ari Robinson
© Jon Haydock
© Colin Angus
What has been the proudest, most gratifying moment so far?

That’s a tough one; there are so many gratifying moments. At the top of the list would be spending time with my two boys and sharing my love of the ocean with them. They are six and ten now, and there’s nothing that gives me more pleasure than watching them grow and develop. I particularly love to see their curiosity and desire to explore the big world around them. Outside of my family, I think two of my proudest accomplishments are completing my five-month row across the Atlantic Ocean and the incredible team we’ve built at Open Ocean Robotics.

You recently won the Innovator Women of the Year award—congratulations! What advice do you have for other women in business?

Thank you! The number one piece of advice I would give to other women in business is to stay steadfast to your decisions if you feel in your heart it is right. For every choice you make, you will have people telling you a “better” way to do it, and if you try pleasing everyone, you’ll end up with a bucket of lukewarm water. Make sure to listen to advice, consider it carefully, but do not heed it if it doesn’t make sense to you.

What’s next for Open Ocean Robotics? What kind of improvements and innovations do you see coming in the marine robotics field?

I feel AI is one of the areas with the greatest potential in our field. Everything from our collision avoidance system to data analytics can be improved using machine learning technologies. We’re at a very exciting time right now with many new technologies being developed that we will get to take advantage of. Another exciting development is low earth orbit satellites providing broadband internet anywhere in the world. Soon our boats will be able to voyage to the remotest corners of the planet while streaming video, acoustics, and a ton of other data in real-time.

What’s one thing that everyone should know about our oceans?

The number one thing I want people to know about our oceans is that they are vital to our planet’s health and our economy, and if we don’t ensure their sustainability, we will all lose. Our oceans produce 70% of the oxygen we breathe, more than 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihood, and the ocean economy is 3.5% of global GDP. Yet, it’s imperilled from climate change, overfishing, biodiversity loss and pollution. Some 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our ocean every year!

This matters to us all. It’s time we pay attention to our oceans.

Learn more at openoceanrobotics.com

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