Marine Robotics Find a Hub Through the U.K. Marine-i Program | Robotics
Earlier this year, staff at the Marine-i project, an EU-funded program designed to promote innovation in marine technology in Cornwall, held two events designed to accelerate growth in cutting-edge marine technology.
The 2030 New Horizons event, held in mid-July, took a “broader look at successful business models to stimulate innovation and how they could be applied in Cornwall,” said Matt Hodson, Marine Hub Operations Director at the Cornwall Development Company. The event focused on key themes, including:
- Funding streams likely to be available to support research, development, and innovation between now through 2030;
- Improving collaboration on innovation projects;
- Testing and commercializing new technologies;
- Creating a culture “that stimulates entrepreneurship and business accelerating,” and “letting go of old, outdated models and encouraging radical new thinking.”
The group’s Technology in Surveying event, held in late May, consisted of a “review by experts of survey techniques and data acquisition and management.” Key themes explored at this event included:
- Discussing the “widespread lack of understanding about the oceans and their value”;
- The mounting demands being made on ocean resources as the world’s population grows and land-based resources become scarcer;
- How improvements in marine surveying technologies can assist and address the first two issues.
The goal of the Marine-i project, partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is to accelerate innovation in the marine technology sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The project runs regular events designed to explore market gaps and technology challenges to stimulate innovation and collaboration across the small and midsize enterprise (SME) supply chain across the region.
“The events are aimed primarily at SMEs based in Cornwall, as well as businesses interested in investing in the region, and are supported by academia and specialist public organizations,” Hodson said. “The conversation is directed to help stimulate collaborations and engagement with the Marine-i project. The events lead to follow on collaboration innovation groups that analyze a problem in more depth.”
New offshore wind turbines present challenges for humans
Recognizing that robotics, autonomous and artificial intelligence (RAI) forms a key part of the U.K.’s industrial strategy, as well as ongoing efforts to reduce the need of sending humans into extremely hazardous environments, Hodson said Marine-I makes a “determined effort to help SMEs engage in national policy initiatives.” It also runs several RAI-themed “discovery rooms.”
Earlier this year, the organization announced a £1 million grant fund to support new developments in robotics and automated systems.
In the offshore wind turbine space, for example, Hodson said the next generation of floating wind turbines will be designed to operate in water depths of up to 700 meters, compared with 40 meters for conventional turbine.
Sending human crews to carry out manual inspections on floating turbines will “become much more expensive and hazardous,” Hodson said.
“There is also a need to regularly inspect subsea cabling and infrastructure, meaning that autonomous vessels will have a vital future role to play in this work, via both surface and subsea craft,” he said. “Future autonomous vessels will also have the capability to launch and recover aerial drones, which will inspect the turbine blades themselves.”
Regional collaboration and future projects
In other news, Marine Hub Cornwall announced the details of a new collaboration with Marine Energy Wales to share knowledge and expertise. The two parties will share supply chain data and expertise, foster closer relations, and look at opportunities for collaborative projects.
Because Cornwall and Wales are in close proximity, and that marine energy has a vital role to play in each economy, it “makes perfect sense for the two organizations to work more closely together,” said Hodson. “This collaboration could help both Cornwall and Wales to compete more effectively on the world stage and to bring new technologies to market more quickly.”
Looking ahead, Hodson predicted further integration of manned and unmanned vessels in offshore operations in coming years.
“We are likely to see the controlled introduction of autonomous systems to provide improved safety and cost reduction through improved performance, multi role vessels and reduced operating costs,” said Hodson.
Supporting new energy concepts
In addition, a business aiming to bring a new form of renewable energy to tropical resorts is moving to Cornwall, with support from Marine-i. Global OTEC Resources, which is developing a system that uses ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), aimed at “off-grid” resorts in the Maldives and Caribbean.
“Other forms of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, have not been proven as viable for meeting the energy demand of these resorts,” said Dan Grech, the company’s managing director. “This means that most are currently burning thousands of litres of diesel daily, so there is strong interest in looking at an alternative form of renewable energy. Our new concept meets their needs.”
OTEC is a form of solar energy that “exploits the heat that the ocean captures from the sun’s rays,” and “possesses huge environmental advantages over fossil fuels and nuclear power,” the company added. OTEC Resources said it “has the potential to produce far more useful and affordable energy than could be obtained from other renewable sources.”
The company said it expects to build its first ocean thermal energy systems at resorts in the Maldives within two years. Global OTEC Resources received a £140,000 grant from Marine-I to help the company make its move to Cornwall.