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A New Marine
Information Ecosystem


Dr. Jonathan Williams,
CEO,
Marine South East Ltd.


HR Wallingford hosted a recent workshop to answer the question: Can underwater drones gather data more quickly and cheaply? This was organized by Marine South East as part of the European EXPOSURES project, which will establish a new marine information ecosystem and demonstrate the use of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) for marine applications.

Advanced data analytics and IoT are entering the marine world, alongside developments in underwater drone technology and associated sensor devices. An example of advanced data analytics is decision support tools that forecast risk, such as weather risks to asset integrity. For instance, operators of offshore wind farms are routinely deploying systems that can gather large amounts of data from their assets (turbines, foundations, cables, etc.) and use analytics to process the data into valuable information, such as optimal intervention for maintenance or repair.

Such data gathering systems need to access a network of different sensor types. IoT allows developers to connect these sensors into a network using well-known standards and protocols, which greatly reduces cost. These approaches are being applied to drones and other devices, so that sensor manufacturers can adhere to standards that give their equipment plug-and-play capability on the vehicle.

This combination is creating unprecedented potential for novel maritime information services, across a wide range of applications. However, feasibility of these information services is not just a question of technology; it also requires the necessary data infrastructure and end-user demand. Making the case for investment depends on an understanding not only of how future clients could utilize novel information services, but also the business models that could deliver services in a commercially attractive way.

Delegates at the workshop concluded there will be massive growth in the areas of autonomous systems, satellite applications and marine information systems to find solutions to a growing number of important challenges.

In Europe, the EXPOSURES project is making progress in building a pilot information service to assist the management of sediment transport risk. Deployed at the SUNRISE IoT facility in Porto, Portugal, the EXPOSURES infrastructure is being used to undertake a series of live field trials to maintain navigation channel hazard maps through observation and prediction. Using low-cost drones (AUVs) and advanced analytics to gather, fuse and share the data, the technology has already significantly reduced the time taken to provide high-value information. It also has the potential to allow many tasks to be undertaken in totally new ways, routing vehicles to target assets at greatest risk.

Marine South East is involved in a number of projects, including EXPOSURES, looking at innovation priorities across the blue economy. These tap a growing awareness of business opportunities in the blue economy in the U.K. and around the world. The blue economy is estimated to represent roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year globally. Governments are increasingly recognizing the social and economic value of the seas: as a source of energy, materials, food and leisure, as well as a transportation corridor. The coastal and ocean environments that provide these resources need careful management to ensure their long-term viability. The use of underwater drones, advanced data analytics, the Internet of Things and high-tech sensor devices are one way that we can ensure the exploitation of marine resources is sustainable and cost-effective.

For those in the industry interested in exploring the relationship between underwater drones, sensors and the Internet of Things, Marine South East extends an invitation to an event April 3, 2017 in Southampton, England, that will examine dual-use opportunities in marine autonomous systems and surveillance and data analytics (www.marinesoutheast.co.uk). It is important for the marine industry to continue to examine the potential of increasingly interconnected technologies in order to fuel growth in business.

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