Ocean tech: New ventures and technologies for exploring and navigating the seas

Most of us spend most of our time on land. So we don’t really know a lot about the largest part of our planet–the oceans and seas.

Perhaps as a consequence, most of us aren’t really aware of what’s happening in “ocean tech”: the technologies that enable exploration, discovery, and navigation of this part of our world. Here, I want to highlight some recent developments in this area. I used the tech discovery software we build at Mergeflow to explore these developments.

As always, my goal is not to be exhaustive. Rather, I’d like to make you curious about the tech space I write about, and provide a jumping-off-board for further discovery.

Perhaps after reading the article below, you might want to explore some of the topics further. One way you can do that is with the Mergeflow searches below. In order to access them, you need a Mergeflow account. If you don’t have one yet, you can sign up for a free trial here. Here are the links to the searches:

Ocean mapping and maritime data

My starting point was this search on ocean mapping and data in Mergeflow. You can also click on the picture below to see the data.

This would be the appropriate surrounding to explore ocean mapping and maritime data technologies with Mergeflow.
This would be the appropriate surrounding for exploring ocean mapping and maritime data technologies with Mergeflow.

Sea Machines: Automating the boring stuff

If you have ever steered a ship, you know that this can be a bad combination of, well, boring (most ships aren’t very fast, and nothing may happen for long stretches of time) and terrifying (when something happens, you really need to be alert and act in a foresighted way because you can’t just slam the brakes). This combination of boring and terrifying can induce fatigue, which of course is dangerous.

Sea Machines makes systems for ships that are autonomous but operate under human command. The idea is to have sensors and AI mitigate the fatigue and general human error risks, by freeing human operators from routine and repetitive tasks. Sea Machines systems can be retrofitted into existing ships.

Here is a video that shows how Sea Machines can automate a survey & search operation:

In July 2020, Sea Machines raised $15M from Accomplice, Toyota AI Ventures, TechNexus, Geekdom Fund, NextGen Venture Partners, Eniac VC, LaunchCapital, and Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Saildrone: Sensor drones for real-time maritime condition awareness

Saildrone makes autonomous sailing drones. Because the drones are powered by wind and solar power, they need no fuel. Of course, not having to re-fuel has obvious advantages if you are an autonomous ocean-going drone.

A Saildrone on the water. Image from Saildrone's website.
A Saildrone on the water. Image from Saildrone’s website.

The goal of Saildrone is to help us better understand our oceans, by providing real-time monitoring of maritime conditions.

In October 2021, Saildrone raised $100M Series C from Bond, XN, Standard Investments, Emerson Collective, Crowley Maritime Corporation, Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Lux Capital, Social Capital, and Tribe Capital.

Sofar Ocean: Buoy-based IoT sensors for ocean intelligence

Sofar Ocean operates a globally distributed IoT sensor network. This network delivers ocean condition data that can be used for environmental research, routing, and other applications.

You can even buy their open-ocean sensor buoy, Spotter, online.

Sofar Ocean's sensor buoy, Spotter. Screenshot from Sofar Ocean's webpage.
Sofar Ocean’s sensor buoy, Spotter. Screenshot from Sofar Ocean’s webpage.

In November 2021, Sofar Ocean received a $39M Sereis B investment from Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, and others.

Terradepth: Using autonomous submarines to build a “Google Sea”

Using fleets of autonomous submarines, Terradepth works on mapping out the deep sea. Just to give you an idea of the size of their submarines, here is a photo from Terradepth’s Instagram account:

A Terradepth autonomous submarine. Photo from Terradepth's Instagram account.
A Terradepth autonomous submarine. Photo from Terradepth’s Instagram account.

When I did a more detailed search for Terradepth in Mergeflow, I found a patent that suggests how their submarines may navigate. The patent mentions a geographic locating method that involves taking pictures of the night sky. In other words, navigation by stars. And another patent suggests that Terradepth’s submarines are powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

The data that’s collected by the submarines are then fed into a data management platform called Absolute Ocean. This platform can also integrate data sources and feeds from third parties, including customers’ own data sets. I assume that this versatility plays an important role in Terradepth’s maritime survey services.

In December 2019, Terradepth raised $8M from Seagate Technologies and others.

NOAA DisMAP: A public tool for exploring movements and locations of fish

So far, I talked about technology companies. To shift perspective a bit, here is an interesting example of a maritime data website that you can explore yourself, in your browser.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has made a new tool for tracking fish in U.S. waters. The tool is an interactive website, called DisMAP, where you can visualize and explore the locations and movements of hundreds of fish species.

NOAA DisMAP showing the distribution of Atlantic cod in the Northeastern US during Spring. Screenshot from NOAA.
NOAA DisMAP showing the distribution of Atlantic cod in the Northeastern US during Spring. Screenshot from NOAA.

New addition: IQT Lab’s $100 AI-enabled sonobuoy

Just now (May 13, 2022) I saw something else that’s interesting: IQT Labs (by In-Q-Tel) has a project called “AI Sonobuoy”. The goal is to build a “$100 AI-enabled sonobuoy”:
https://iqtlabs.org/edge/ai-sonobuoy/

ParticleTrackerBuoy. Image from IQT Lab's AI Sonobuoy GitHub repository.
ParticleTrackerBuoy. Image from IQT Lab’s AI Sonobuoy GitHub repository.

There’s a GitHub repository with code and documentation for the project:
https://github.com/IQTLabs/AISonobuoy

Shipbuilding and operating

Additive manufacturing: From ship building to ship printing

A while ago, I used Mergeflow for a more detailed analysis of 3D printing technologies, materials, and applications. One of the applications then was printing large parts of ships.


Related: Discovering strategies in additive manufacturing


For this article, I focused only on this combination, additive manufacturing and ships. I did this by searching for a combination of two patent classes, B63 for ships or other waterborne vessels, and B33Y, for additive manufacturing. Because Mergeflow has an algorithm that tags non-patent documents with patent classes, you also get R&D publications, news, and other contents, not just patents.

Since I wrote the 3D printing article mentioned above, there have been more developments in additively manufacturing large parts of ships. This includes engine parts, but also structural components.

This last article, Additive manufacturing adds versatility to large marine structures, also mentions Dive Technologies. Dive Technologies uses 3D printing to make autonomous submarines, or parts for them. In December 2020, Dive Technologies raised $4M from Tanis Venture Management, Virginia Tech Carilion Innovation Fund, Mill Town Capital, Cavalier Angels, Charlottesville Angel Network, and MassDevelopment’s Emerging Technology Fund. In early 2022, Dive Technologies was acquired by Anduril.

Dive Technologies (now part of Anduril) makes autonomous submarines that are manufactured using 3D printing and other new technologies. Photo from Anduril's website.
Dive Technologies (now part of Anduril) makes autonomous submarines that are manufactured using 3D printing and other new technologies. Photo from Anduril’s website.

But even if you are more the recreational boating type, 3D printing might be interesting to you. Rotterdam-based Tanaruz, for example, makes 3D printed boats. And the boats are largely made of recycled polypropylene. Tanaruz uses customized 3D printing systems from ABB and works with another Dutch company, Xtrution; they make the extruder.

A 3D-printed boat by Tanaruz. Photo from Tanaruz's website.
A 3D-printed boat by Tanaruz. Photo from Tanaruz’s website.

Kewazo: A robot for scaffolding

If you have ever been up on a scaffold, you know that this is a dangerous environment. And any help that can make the job safer and easier is highly appreciated.

Munich-based robotics company Kewazo makes LIFTBOT. LIFTBOT transports materials along scaffolds. It is battery-powered and wireless (you really don’t want to trip over cables when you move around on scaffolds).

Kewazo's LIFTBOT mounted on a scaffold. Photo from Kewazo's website.
Kewazo’s LIFTBOT mounted on a scaffold. Photo from Kewazo’s website.

While Kewazo is not solely focused on shipbuilding, it is easy to see how LIFTBOT can be useful to shipbuilding yards.

In September 2021, Kewazo raised $5M Series A from True Ventures and MIG AG.


Featured image by abadonian from Getty Images Pro.

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