Last week’s 50th anniversary Oceanology International conference in San Diego hosted a unique gathering of scientists and technologists working in partnership to preserve and grow “The Blue Economy”.

The Center for the Blue Economy, a leading research agency defines the blue economy:

The economic activities that create sustainable wealth from the world’s oceans and coasts. — Center for the Blue Economy.

And the World Wildlife Fund estimates the total value of the blue economy to come in at over $24 trillion. This is the frontier of ocean research — which builds upon and integrates our digital understanding of the ocean into an understanding of how humans can interact with the oceans in positive economic ways.

At the heart of this movement is the underlying optimism that these innovations have been taking shape for many years and today, the marriage of science with technology holds much promise.

Foundations in Education and Incubation

In thinking of the future state of our oceans, education is an imperative.

We need curricula that ensure children grow up with education around ocean issues, and in turn become ocean stewards that understand the importance of ocean health for life. The Maritime Alliance is one of the organizations committed to this issue and is working with local school districts to ensure blue tech education is infused into the K-12 curriculum. It also administers the BlueTech Incubator, a co-working space in San Diego that is committed to accelerating innovation by providing blue tech startups business services, mentorship, access to capital as well as other resources.

Other major topics of focus included energy. Marine energy with a focus on renewable energy sources abundant at sea such as wind, solar and wave energy  has a dual role in the blue economy. 

  1. Energy generation at sea is a stand-alone sector and resolving the unique challenges it presents related to storage and transport.
  2. Removing energy constraints enables the development of other new sectors.

The topic of sustainable seafood and addressing rising global population food security needs, with a focus on sustainable aquaculture was also extensively discussed.

Frontiers of Innovation — When Technology meets Science
Olis Robotics

Sandra Ponce de leon checks out Olis Robotics machine learning, 3D rendering and robotic arm.

Oceanology’s Conference floor was filled with the kind of new tech innovations only seen in the movies. From Remotely Operated Vehicles—ROVs— to Autonomous systems to swarming technology and AI — it was all on display on the show floor. Here are some of the coolest technologies in the world of ocean tech.

Apium Swarm Technologies

You may have seen swarming drones on display at the Chinese opening olympic games, but the applications of swarm technology go far beyond entertaining displays of lights. Apium swarm technologies creates the underlying software that enables command and control of multiple autonomous surface vehicles or even autonomous diving vehicles at any time. Swarm technology makes data collection more effective because it can take an area snapshot coordinated with other vehicles as opposed to one underwater drone moving from section to section when everything is constantly moving because of tides, sea floor changes and differences in water makeup.

Sea Machines Robotics

Sea Machines is a forward-looking, autonomous technology company that specializes in advanced control technology for commercial boats. While Sea Machines believes that fully autonomous seafaring vehicles are in our near future, it sees helping build autonomy into existing fleets as an interim step that will revolutionize the shipping industry, altogether.

Sea Machine’s technology works by leveraging a combination of software and hardware — i.e. sensors and cameras— to deliver autonomy to existing fleets. Its system collects a continuous stream of information from the vessel’s surroundings and can identify and track potential issues ahead of time such as not crashing into a pier or other object. It has partnered with Maersk who will use the technology to increase its fleet safety, efficiency and reliability.

Another exciting use case for Sea Machine’s technology is leveraging it for autonomous vehicles to collect pollutants such as plastics. As unmanned vehicles can stay out longer on the water than manned vessels, these expeditions will be more effective in collecting more pollutants.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Scripps’ Plankton Camera System built by Dr. Jules Jaffe of Scripps Institution of Oceanography illustrates the importance of small things, in this case helping visualize oceanic microcosms made up of phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton, a marine photo-synthesizer take carbon dioxide, water and energy from the sun to make food for themselves and release oxygen in the process. In fact, phytoplankton is directly linked to one of every two breaths we take on earth. These microorganisms make up the basis of of our food web, influence our atmosphere as well as the oceans’ biochemical cycles, and act as an early warning system for potentially harmful algal blooms.

Yet, these important life giving organisms are not visible to the naked eye, so the team at Scripps led by Jaffe developed a microscopic camera that has been taking pictures eight times per second 24 hours every day for the past past three years, capturing over one billion images.

Scripps Plankton Camera System

Recent plankton captures from microscope camera

With that much data coming in, human scientists are challenged in identifying and classifying each species of plankton. In order to make use of the data, the team is employing machine learning to identify each type and make sure plankton ecologies show no signs of harmful algae blooms. 

Seahawk Flying Submersibles

Seahawk Flying Submersibles are drones that can go both airborne and underwater. The ability to survey areas both from above, as well as below the surface could be a game changer when it comes to oil spills or coral reef assessments.

The Seahawk offers ports, aqua farms, offshore energy platforms, wind farms, and search and rescue operations unparalleled access to areas of interest that are otherwise difficult or costly to inspect. Further, by flying to location a SeaHawk can be deployed faster than any surface or underwater solution. This along with its considerable payload—weight carrying—capacity plus the ability to process data in real-time information means its technology can collect better data, cheaper, and faster than existing solutions.

The ocean unites us all and working to promote a healthy blue economy is in humanity’s best interest. Oceanology International was a great event showcasing the leading scientists and technologists of our day working together to save our precious oceans.