With some help from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, Irish firm XOCEAN is well underway to become the first company to commercialise robotic vessels for ocean data gathering.
Imagine the following. You’re nine years old, it’s Bring Your Parents to School Day and your mom is with you in your classroom. When it’s her turn to present what she’s doing, she tells your classmates – sons and daughters of firefighters, nurses, veterinarians, even a fighter pilot – her job is in ocean data. Ugh. You look at the faces of your fellow students, most of them bored to tears, some staring angrily at you.
Until the point when she explains how those data are collected: through satellites, adventurous expeditions on research vessels tagging instruments to marine mammals, and now also by robot boats.
Robot boats! Suddenly ocean data sounds way cooler than those other jobs – bar the fighter pilot, perhaps.
Maybe your mom works for XOCEAN, an Irish start-up company whose USVs – Uncrewed Surface Vessels – are what you can call robotic boats. The vessels are remotely controlled and monitored over a satellite internet connection by a team of pilots in the operations centre. The boats transit hundreds of kilometres without the need for a mothership or even a single person offshore. Fitted with up to a hundred kilograms of high-end sensors, the USVs transmit real time data that is used for fisheries management, environmental protection, mapping of the seabed, inspection of offshore installations… You name it!
The USVs are an interesting alternative to conventional research vessels, which can cost anything between €17 million and €35 million, and are notoriously difficult to source. This, and the fact that manned vessels are dependent on good weather conditions, often cause major delays to data collection missions, which in turn result in escalating costs running into the millions and even project cancellations.
On top, the USVs operate 24/7, at zero risk for human safety and a carbon footprint a thousand times smaller than those of manned research vessels.
In line with the Green Deal and the new EU approach to a sustainable blue economy, the European Commission is happy to support such developments. Through the Blue Economy Window project FleetUSV, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) contributed €1.7 million euro to bring the USVs to market.
Thanks to this investment, XOCEAN will be the first company to commercialise and serially manufacture commercial USVs at scale and at significantly reduced cost (-66%), creating more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in just 3 years.
The overall technical goal of FleetUSV is to enhance the technology so that customers can control and operate the USV’s themselves. In parallel, FleetUSV’s commercial objective is to get the business and technology ready for large-scale market penetration globally.
If all goes well, the XOCEAN USV will be commercially launched in Europe, the US & Canada in July 2022.