The identification of optimal locations for renewable energy infrastructure, creation of navigational products to support international shipping, maintenance of subsea assets, environmental research, and numerous other activities related to our oceans all rely on the collection of data. With the marine environment being a key driver of the global economy and sustaining 40 percent of humans that live within 100km of the coast1 and nearly a million known species2, data is required to ensure both responsible use and protection of this essential resource. This sustainable use should include collecting the required data in an ocean-friendly low impact way.

XOCEAN XO-450 USV surveying on an Offshore Wind Farm.


Ocean data has traditionally been acquired using large, crewed vessels, which emit substantial amounts of carbon from the consumption of thousands, or even tens of thousands, of litres of fuel per day. With typical speeds of 5 knots or more during operations, and much higher transit speeds, these vessels also pose a threat to marine mammals through collision. While the purpose of the data may be intended to support the oceans, the vessels conventionally used for the collection do not minimize potential environmental effects.

Today there are various Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USVs) and autonomous vehicles for data collection and mapping initiatives, which can help to reduce carbon emissions and other potential environmental influences. With no space requirements for personnel or related facilities onboard the size and fuel consumption can be much less than a traditional vessel. The design, power source, and other factors will however determine the overall platform capabilities, including environmental limits, endurance and payload (sensor) capacity. Using a USV with a flexible design and a hybrid power system we can reduce carbon emissions while still meeting survey objectives in an operationally efficient and cost-effective way.

As an example, the XO-450 USV is the size of an average car with renewable hybrid power and consumes very small volumes of fuel. The resultant carbon emissions are minimal (~0.1% of a conventional vessel) and reduced to the point that they are easily offset for fully carbon neutral operations. This is achieved without compromising power or payload capacity, or data accuracy requirements. Speeds of ~3 knots and operations in challenging weather conditions (Force 6 on the Beaufort Scale) can be consistently achieved throughout 24/7 operations. The environmentally low impact approach can address even the most stringent data collection specifications defined by energy developers and operators, Hydrographic Offices, and others for seabed object detection, point density, sub bottom penetration and related requirements.

Four XOCEAN USV’s were used to deliver 12,500kms of geophysical survey for a carbon capture storage project.


Continued growth of the global ocean economy is driving the need for high-quality data to enable informed decisions and support new developments such as clean energy and decarbonisation projects. At the same time carbon emissions from human activities continue to cause ocean warming and related negative effects, such as the decline of Arctic sea ice. The use of USVs allows us to reduce any potential impact during operations, including mapping projects in sensitive environments like the Arctic for safe navigation in the expanding ice-free areas. Data has an important role in our ongoing interactions with the oceans and if that data can be collected through carbon neutral operations, then we can be that much closer to using our oceans in a sustainable way.


Author: Matthew Holland, XOCEAN Sales Manager Americas

Featured in Issue 3 Big Blue World, Society for Underwater Technology April 2022 Newsletter. See here.