Aquabotix Goes Public: Web-Based Tech and Underwater Vehicles

Aquabotix is a company that specializes in portable underwater vehicles. Its products include ROVs, hybrid AUV/ROVs and underwater camera systems. Aquabotix recently made the transition to become a public company and is now listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. ST caught up with CEO Durval Tavares and engineer Joshua Normandin to talk about the IPO and the company’s latest tech developments.

What prompted you to go public?    

DT: One of the things we were looking for was to raise some capital dedicated strictly for growth. We strongly believe the Asia-Pacific market is a huge opportunity going forward. We wanted to have physical presence in that part of the world.

Also, the Australian market has an entrepreneurial spirit. We felt strongly we could do better things in Australia than in the U.S.

We’re living up to our expectations in sales and marketing [since the IPO]. We’ve announced a couple of new tech features in our products, and we have some more features to announce in the next six months.

Has your company grown since the IPO?

DT: We have 26 people on our payroll. That’s double the size of the company before the IPO. We also do a lot of outsourcing for engineering services.

Now that you’re public, you’re beholden to shareholders. How does that change things?

DT: We were always beholden to shareholders. We used to have five [before the IPO]. Now it’s 500 shareholders. Our fiduciary responsibility has always been at the top of the list. What has changed is we’re now a public company, so there’s additional things you have to do as a public company. We have a physical presence in Australia [for example].

There’s a little more burden as a public company, but it’s something we knew ahead of time, and we’re handling it.

Tell me about new tech developments.

DT: We’ve increased our engineering team and budget. We released a couple of announcements having to do with our remote control and remote viewing capabilities. It’s more on the software side of things, the ability to interact with technology anywhere in the world. As long as you have that, you have control and see the result of the vehicle you’re working with.

You’ve now got tech that allows for vehicle control via smartphone and tablet.

DT: We’re a company that’s providing easier access for remote control. We first introduced an iPad-controlled vehicle. It was new to the world. We’ve had an iPad and a Windows app for a while. The technology for the Internet, and specifically for browsers—developing these applications is what we’re doing now. As long as you have browsers, you can access and have control over your system. We’re leading the tech trend. I expect that everybody else will be doing it in a couple years.

Who are your competitors?

DT: For ROVs, Teledyne, SeaBotix, VideoRay, Deep Trekker. For the hybrid—ROV and AUV—we break the mold by being able to go across those two markets. In terms of the hybrid market, there’s only two other vehicles commercially available, from SRS and Saab.

Our product is lower cost in the ROV market. Our value proposition is to provide the latest in tech and functionality at a price point that’s affordable.

Who are your target customers?

DT: We have multiple products. We go across a few markets. For the Endura ROV—aquaculture, infrastructure inspection, imaging generation markets, hydrogeneration, oil and gas. For the hybrid—hydrographic survey, the military and government, environmental monitoring and research.

The remote control capability will open up opportunities we haven’t seen in the past. Quite often, you have to have all experts present on a mission. This virtual presence allows you to have expertise available during remote vehicle operations.

What is the focus on the engineering side?

JN: We’re pushing on that hybrid front. We’ve been pushing tremendously. You’ll see very exciting things coming up. We’re working on Internet of Things and cloud computing.

We’ve seen some holes in the market we can address with our product line. You don’t see people taking off-the-shelf tech that exists and providing a framework that works with these components.

Cybersecurity is a big issue in the industry. How are you dealing with it?

DT: Internet of Things, remote control, remote viewing, these are based on cloud computing. The whole system is very secure. The data is only available to you. Security is in place to avoid rogue control. We use the Amazon cloud as our backbone for our services throughout the world.

What can we expect from Aquabotix in the next 6 months to a year?

DT and JN: There is a place for Web-based and cloud-based tech and a place for the hybrid. We’re going to do more exciting things with the hybrid. Autonomy is big—connectivity and intelligent behavior and autonomy, the availability of sensors, from low cost to high precision. You’ll see more intelligent behavior, connectivity through cloud computing and better sensors to gather data.

─Interview by Aileen Torres-Bennett

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