U.K. Report Examines the Future of the Sea

The U.K.’s Government Office for Science released its Future of the Sea final report today. The document addresses major impacts on the sea including governance, environmental issues, marine resources and economic potential of the sea.

The Foresight project that produced the report also created a series of evidence reviews on specific topics including cybersecurity, shipping trends, ocean acidification, aquaculture and marine biodiversity, among others.

To examine the future of the industry, the project also conducted interviews with 11 marine companies to infer the industry’s challenges into the future. The interviews are summarized in the report, “Industry perspectives on emerging technology”.

You can read more on the project page, https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/future-of-the-sea, or download the full report here (pdf).

Virtual Immersion Goes Beyond the Surface with Underwater Drones

Blueye Robotics goggles connect a smartphone with an underwater drone to immerse the user 150 meters below the surface.

Christine Spiten is the 27 year old co-founder and chief global strategist of Blueye Robotics, a company making underwater drones that connect with your smartphone, tablet, laptop or a pair of goggles to explore the marine environment 150 meters underwater.

Sea Technology caught up with Spiten just a few hours after she emerged from an underwater adventure in the fjords of Trondheim Norway, where Blueye Robotics is based, to talk about the company’s debut model, the Pioneer.

We also discussed future development plans and Spiten’s ideas about democratizing access to the ocean to make underwater inspection—whether the hull of a ship, an aquaculture farm, for search-and-rescue, or just for fun—an everyday activity without the need for expensive, heavy equipment or professional crews of divers.

Sea Technology: Christine, tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?

Christine Spiten: I am an engineer with an master of science degree in industrial economics and technology management. I also studied regulation techniques in underwater robotics at the University in Rio, Brazil, and I studied international entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley in California.

As a student, I actively searched for practical applications of all the theory I was learning. I decided to start with my greatest passion: the ocean, which has been an important part of my life since I was very little. Driven by curiosity, I wanted to create a solution that made the ocean available to everyone, to increase knowledge, compassion and protection of the ocean on a global level.

My master’s thesis was about the development of small underwater drones that could be available for everyone. That’s the idea with Blueye Robotics: developing underwater drones that connect to your smart device and bring your eyes down to 150 meters below the surface, allowing you to share that experience with others.

ST: I’m curious about the development of the Blueye Pioneer prototype. I read that you created it in just a few weeks?

CS: Ten weeks after we founded the company, we had a prototype. So that prototype I actually brought with me on an international research expedition across the Atlantic sea where I was one of 14 women investigating marine litter and searching for microplastics. So I was able to take the first prototype with me on this expedition, which was an amazing experience, but also an opportunity for Blueye to prove that we have some technology that is revolutionizing, both in the way that we can use it for research and also for private users.

Check out the video below to see the Blueye Pioneer in the water with the Great Barrier Reef Legacy—and sharks!

Along the way, we had different pilot customers giving us feedback, so the user experience has been in focus the whole time. We want our drones to be fun, easy and intuitive to operate and handle, including the size: they are small enough that you can bring one in your hand luggage when you’re traveling.

So that was the first functioning prototype, and I was able to take it aboard the flight to Africa with me. It was extremely exciting. Since then, the drones have become more efficient, and they are now able to go deeper. The camera quality has improved a lot. They have also become smaller size and easier to handle quite practically.

ST: Tell me more about the start-up of Blueye?

CS: Blueye started with four co-founders back in 2015. We’re still based in Trondheim, the marine technology capital in Norway and one of the world’s largest marine technology hubs. It’s great for us being here. In addition, there’s the closeness to the sea and the fjords. Just a couple hours ago we came in from a trip testing the latest prototype of our drone, and we were able to dive down to 225 m depth, and it’s just beautiful coral. It may be hard to believe it is this lively and colorful below the surface of the dark Arctic waters all the way up in Norway, but it’s really stunning.

ST: Is increasing the depth your next step in development?

CS: Yes. In the future, we will have several models of the Pioneer, both smaller, easier, cheaper ones and also more complex ones that have more sensors and are specialized for different uses.

Just a couple of weeks ago I went down to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. There is a group of scientists called the Great Barrier Reef Legacy who are now trying one of our prototypes on their expeditions in search of super corals. So this is just one example of how scientists can use these drones.

We are also receiving a lot of orders for these drones for professional use within the shipping industry for ship inspection, for aquaculture inspection and for search and rescue. We also have a contract with a Norwegian cruise line that will use it onboard as an activity for their guests. They will have small underwater drones with their expedition team going out in boats, bringing guests with them and having the guests operate the underwater drones, for instance, for whale watching on the expedition cruise.

ST: Tell me about your team. What kind of skills were involved in development of the drones?

CS: We are 19 people today, and that’s a team consisting of software developers, mechanical designers, mechanical engineers and we have very efficient electrical engineers. We are also collaborating with a company that has assisted us on external design of the drone, the design of the app, and the whole user experience. So we are continuing to grow our team. We would like a lot more software developers in the future as the user experience and the software part of the drone will continue to be developed. We have people from Germany, from Spain, Netherlands, Romania, China and Norway.

ST: What does it mean to “democratize” access to the ocean?

CS: I think our whole team are generally passionate about the ocean and dedicated to make this product that will actually open up people’s eyes to the ocean. We are increasingly focused on the oceans worldwide, because people don’t realize that this is the last frontier on earth, and we are all dependent on it. So if we could democratize access to the ocean and enable people to be part of this exploration, I think that’s a story that really attracts people.

ST: Tell me about your vision for consumers and citizens to share data from their drone with marine scientists. How do you foresee that playing out?

CS: You have the ability to share the story through an app or online. You can actually stream the experience while you are outside, you can stream live video over the internet, so a group of people who are not present when you are diving can actually log on and see what’s going on. And, by implementing more sensors on the drone in the future, we are able to actually say something about the condition of the sea. So this is a way that we can contribute to research and marine biology all over the world, by providing data. That’s actually the biggest bottleneck for researchers today is the lack of access to data to be able to say something about the condition of the ocean.

So I think this will be a huge thing in the future. At the moment our software development is focused on how to make this experience exciting for people and to gamify, for instance, the search for trash or microplastics or different marine species when you’re diving. We also have a digital diving mask, so you can put your iPhone into the lens of this mask and truly immerse yourself in this experience.

But there are also practical uses. For instance, when you’re inspecting the hull of your ship, to be able to put this mask on and really close out all disturbances, the sunlight, and really be able to dive down and see underwater. It’s easy to control and you’re actually able to stand still with the help of functions like auto-heading and auto-depth. You can let go of the control buttons with your hands. The ability to do that is really simplifying operation for professionals and also enabling private people to do something they’ve never had the opportunity to do before.

ST: What kind of feedback are you getting?

CS: We have loaned prototypes to partners who say they usually either use divers to go underwater with a camera to inspect the ship or more expensive ROVs that have been used by the industry for decades. When they try out the Blueye Pioneer, it saves time and cost to just throw a drone overboard into the sea and use it to do the same work on really short notice, themselves.

We have a collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to test our prototype, and they say this is something that will save them a lot of time, a lot of cost, and make it easier for them to conduct research. On the California coast there are a lot of marine protected areas, and MBARI is responsible for research in this area over time to be able to say year-to-year how marine life is affected by climate change and by human activity. To do the work, they are using divers and big, industrial ROVs.

A normal scuba diver is able to dive down to 80 meters, so just to be able to have an underwater drone like ours that can go down to 150 meters without having to bring along an extra boat with a big ROV and some professionals using it, is helping the scientists perform tests, gather samples and inspect more often, which is exactly what they need.

ST: Tell me about the technology, what’s inside the device. How does it see, how does it swim, what are the components involved?

CS: It has four thrusters, 350 W each, so if you’re operating it along the hull of a ship or a wall in the water or a coral reef, you can move sideways, adjust your position, go up or down. The thrusters keep you stable and give you really good video. It has a 1080 full HD camera that is really light-sensitive, so it gives you the true colors. The battery operates for about two hours, and you can change these batteries if you want to continue and go diving a whole day.

And there’s the cable from the drone up to the surface unit that you can connect onshore or you can have it floating at a buoy. From the surface unit, it uses a wifi signal that goes to your phone, tablet, desktop screen or surface device, making it able to receive live video and transmit the control signal from a game controller. Or, you can use touch-control on your screen or mobile device. 

Interview by Amelia Jaycen



Quick Facts:

  • The Great Barrier Reef Legacy is using the Blueye Pioneer drone to learn about coral reef bleaching.
  • The Blueye Pioneer drone will be used by The New York Harbor School for their  “Billion Oyster Project” in which a billion oysters are placed in the Hudson River to clean the water and restore these native shellfish to the waters. Blueye Robotics drones will be used to monitor the oysters and check the status of the project.
  • The Marine Life Studies organization in Monterey, California is working with Blueye Robotics to help them study marine protected areas around Monterey Bay and along the West Coast of the U.S. from Seattle to San Diego.


About Christine Spiten:

Christine Spiten holds an M.Sc in industrial economics and technology management from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, which included robotics courses at UFRJ in Rio, Brazil. Spiten was recognized as one of Norway’s 50 most important female tech founders in 2017 and was a nominated finalist for the Nor-Shipping Young Entrepreneur Award 2017. Watch Spiten’s TED Talk: “Technology’s Impact on Empathy” or visit www.blueyerobotics.com to learn more. Interview has been edited for style and clarity.



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China’s Arctic Ambitions: Q&A with Sherri Goodman

Arctic icebergs

Icebergs in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 8, 2006, north of western Russia. (Photographer: Mike Dunn, NC State, Museum of Natural Sciences. Photo Credit: NOAA Climate Program Office, NABOS 2006 Expedition.)


The Arctic has traditionally been a region where cooperation has been common between nations. Its significance on the world’s geopolitical map is changing, however, as global warming leads to increased ice melt, thus reducing barriers to maritime navigation. Less ice means more shipping traffic and better access to resources, most notably, oil and gas.

China, despite not having any territory in the Arctic, recognizes the value of the polar region and has staked a claim with the release this January of its national Arctic policy. ST spoke with former deputy undersecretary of defense (environmental security) Sherri Goodman, a senior fellow at the Wilson Center, about China’s Arctic, and global, ambitions.

Sherri Goodman

Sea Technology: Why is the Arctic important to China?

Sherri Goodman: I think China realizes that its economic future will absolutely involve Arctic resources, transit and influence. Once the Northern Sea Route, or eventually the Polar Route, becomes viable for destination shipping, it will cut days off other transit routes, and the Arctic is now projected to be substantially ice free in certain parts for four months of the year within the next 15 years or so.

So, the Chinese are looking at the future of the Arctic. Climate change has opened up a vast new region of the planet for shipping, energy resources. They have active energy projects with the Russians, [for example] at Yamal. They’ve also been making plays into Greenland and Iceland for energy and minerals.

They’ve got a very strategic approach to science. They’ve really ramped up their scientific research in the last five to twenty years, deploying their researchers and scientists to Svalbard in Norway, to Iceland and Greenland. There’s also vast fishing resources that are moving northward that will be plentiful. They see the opportunity and the promise, and they connected it into their whole Belt and Road Initiative.

ST: Can you place China’s Arctic policy in the context of Belt and Road?

SG: China’s Arctic policy—they’re building the spider web here. They’re building the web. It [China’s Belt and Road Initiative] already has blue economic passages in it, the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean to the South Pacific. They added the Arctic as one of the blue economic passages within the Belt and Road Initiative. Some call it a maritime Marshall Plan.

They just joined with Finland to develop subsea cables, to develop the Data Silk Road. There’s a lot of communications still to be laid and developed in this region.

And then they’re using their science as an investment with deliberate purpose. Investing more than all other non-Arctic states in observations, ocean research, climate change.

They’re also looking at how they participate in setting global norms by acknowledging that climate is changing, and this is why they need to be part of that region’s sustainable economic and social development policies. That’s how they couch their Arctic policy—through sustainable social and economic development. They’re developing their bid for Arctic leadership.

ST: Is it realistic for China to claim itself as an Arctic nation when it’s not geographically in the Arctic?

SG: They’ve stressed in this policy that the Arctic is a global commons. They stress that the Arctic is like the ocean and like space, that it’s a global commons area. It’s very different than how they approach the South China Sea and their claims in the South China Sea. I’m not sure they can fully be reconciled other than that it’s in their interest to have access to Arctic resources; it’s not in their national interest to allow others to dispute [China’s ownership of islands in the South China Sea].

ST: The U.S. does not have much technology in the Arctic. It barely has icebreakers, even though the Coast Guard has been pushing for new ones. What do you think of U.S. technology in the Arctic?

SG: For many years, the U.S. and, to some extent, Russia were the predominant players in Arctic science, research and technology. That’s shifted tremendously in the last five to ten years, and I think China is pursuing its science with a strategic purpose now in a way that I get concerned that the U.S. may underestimate.

We [the U.S.] don’t have a centralized approach or a coordinated approach to pursuing our science and research, and our industries are not clearly connected.

Now, China is able to bring a vast amount of resources to play from government and the private sector. They’re looking at peering into a region that is changing very rapidly and has somewhat of a leadership vacuum.

The U.S. has always been a somewhat reluctant Arctic nation. Many Americans don’t even think of the U.S. as an Arctic nation. As this region becomes more navigable and more exploitable and changes dramatically, we have to be aware and have a strategy for managing those changes.

Let’s not forgot that Russia has the longest coastline of any Arctic nation, and really sees the Northern Sea Route that runs along the Russian Arctic coast as an important toll road and resources for the future. Russia is a resource economy. Twenty-plus percent of its GDP comes from the Arctic, and it has long had significant populations in the Arctic.

Then, you could compare with some of our Nordic allies, Norway, Sweden, Finland, all of whom have undertaken pretty substantial innovation initiatives, whether through telecommunications, education or sustainable development.

ST: How do you think the U.S. sees the Arctic?

SG: In the last five or so years, most of our key agencies have developed Arctic strategies. There has been an Arctic policy going back to the 1980s, the first George Bush. It’s been refreshed and updated. When the U.S. chaired the Arctic Council 2015 to ’17, the U.S. put a lot more leadership initiative to it. It aligned with the last administration’s goals on climate change, a way to highlight that the climate is changing more rapidly in the Arctic than anywhere else in the planet. They held the first Arctic science summit.

Now there’s a lot of interagency and other networks established in the last administration that have withered and are dormant. And it wasn’t an accident that in the Chinese premier’s last visit to the U.S. he also went to Alaska. What we’ve seen in this era, in the Arctic and in general, is the rise of subnational- and [sub]state-level diplomacy. Now you have the Chinese premier having his own engagement strategy with Alaska!

ST: What are your predictions for what will happen in the Arctic in the next five to ten years—cooperation or conflict?

SG: Right now, there is good cooperation among the Arctic nations through the Arctic Council, and through other fora. And it’s most likely that that cooperation will continue because right now it’s in all of the Arctic and non-Arctic nations’ interest to continue to advance their science, communications, access and a variety of mechanisms by working together. I think the tensions or issues can arise if, for example, there’s always an accident waiting to happen, an oil spill or a ship that runs into trouble, and whether that’s addressed in a cooperative way, we won’t know until the incident occurs and what it presents. But that’s one area to watch out for, continue to plan for. That’s what the [Arctic] Coast Guard Forum is doing. If a transboundary incident occurs, it will involve leadership at high levels.

There’s also a question of conflict in the Baltics, Russia, Ukraine spilling into this region. The Russians are building up their military. The Chinese are building up their capabilities and military capacity.

I’m concerned the U.S. has been slow to develop its surface ability to operate and its infrastructure capability, partly because it doesn’t see itself as an Arctic nation and partly because it’s vastly expensive—but we do so at our peril because we could be surprised.

─Interview by Aileen Torres-Bennett

The Inaugural Smart Ship Awards Honor Digital Change-Makers

Nominations are open for the inaugural Fathom Smart Ship Awards through Nov. 10, 2017. Focused on the digitization of shipping, the Smart Ship Awards will honor movers, shakers and digital change-makers who have real impacts on pushing the operational boundaries of the shipping industry.

The inaugural awards focus on four key areas in the digital development of the maritime industries:

The Start-up—A company with a disruptive idea or already showing elements of being disruptive.

The Enabler—A company supporting innovative ideas.

The Solution—A solution or service, whether office-based, cloud-based or shipborne, including start-ups or other types.

The Digital Changemaker—An ambassador for digital development.

Learn more at the Smart Ship Awards webpage.


New Panama Canal Anniversary

Panama Canal

The Panama Canal commemorated the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of its Expanded Canal, one of the most significant milestones in the history of the 102-year-old waterway and a defining moment for the people of Panama and the global maritime industry.

ICS Chairman Pushes for CO2 Reduction Strategy for Shipping


Speaking in Indonesia at The Economist magazine’s World Ocean Summit,  Chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Esben Poulsson has set out what the industry would like the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to achieve as part of its CO2 reduction strategy for the shipping sector.

He said that unless the IMO makes significant progress, the industry could be vulnerable to regional action, not only from the EU–which is considering incorporating shipping into the EU Emissions Trading System–but also from Canada or California, which have already introduced carbon pricing.

“We are confident IMO can adopt an ambitious strategy by 2018 matching the spirit of the Paris Agreement,” said Poulsson, adding that the IMO must agree to “a baseline year for peak CO2 emissions from shipping, as well as setting out some serious long-term aspirations for dramatically cutting the sector’s total CO2 by the middle of the century.”

ICS stresses that the IMO should adopt objectives for the entire sector, not for individual ships, and agree on a mechanism for delivery, preferably by 2023.