Could Robots Be the Key to Saving Our Seas?


© Photos Courtesy of Open Ocean Robotics

By Raye Mocioiu

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.

“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,” Julie shares. “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.”

Through these uncrewed boats that are operated remotely, Open Ocean Robotics is creating a digital ocean and allowing scientists to see the ocean in a transformative way, from the seafloor to the surface and across millions of miles.

Open Ocean Robotics boat out on the sea
© Courtesy of Open Ocean Robotics

“Creating a digital ocean is about collecting data autonomously through technology like our robot boat Data Xplorer,” says Julie, who works with her husband Colin, CTO and co-founder of Open Ocean Robotics, to produce the vessels. “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.”

Conventional vessels can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $80,000 a day to operate offshore. Removing just one offshore vessel from the ocean has the same effect as reducing the emissions of 100 cars for a year.

These 250-pound unsinkable boats are doing the same jobs as the bigger boats but at a fraction of the cost and even less of a negative impact on the oceans. Not just that, but being unmanned means these boats can trek into parts of the ocean that are harder to access with a ship, sailing into the biggest seas and braving the nastiest storms.

Last year, Open Ocean managed to secure funding that would help them improve the autonomous solar-powered vessel, which works to police illegal fishing in marine protected areas—a problem that costs nearly $23 billion and accounts for 30 percent of fish. Because illegal fishing happens in remote parts of the ocean, it’s incredibly hard to police. By having something that can go out and monitor those areas, Open Ocean Robotics is making waves in combatting issues that are putting our oceans at risk.

“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.”

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

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