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Marine-i event highlights the fantastic potential for robotics and AI

Marine-i event highlights the fantastic potential for robotics and AI

Marine-i’s second Discovery Room event took place at Tremough Innovation Centre in Penryn on 22nd November with more than 70 people in attendance.

The theme of the day was Marine Technology – Autonomous Systems, Robotics & Artificial Intelligence. The event was led by Simon Cheeseman from Marine-i Delivery Partner the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and was designed to showcase rapidly expanding interest in autonomous systems and robotics. Delegates heard presentations from a number of leading experts who gave a wide-ranging overview of the key opportunities and challenges in this exciting field. The presenters clearly identified where businesses in the South West could capitalise and be a leading part of this technology evolution.

Professor Lars Johanning from Exeter University detailed the work of the Marine-i team in nurturing innovation in marine technology, with a focus on four key areas of marine energy, marine manufacturing, marine operations and marine environmental technologies. He emphasised how the team’s work on Robotics will align with other national initiatives, such as the ‘Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets’ or ‘ORCA Hub’, to develop robotics and AI technologies for use in extreme and unpredictable environments.

Dr Nikos Pronios, RAS Innovation Lead from Innovate UK, said the Government is committed to supporting and growing emerging technologies as one of its four priority areas in the Industrial Strategy. Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) will have an impact on the future global workforce, economy and job market. RAS is seen as an important emerging technology and Innovate UK has already placed £50 million worth of support into this area. The Industrial Challenge Fund will see six challenges (one of which is Robots for a Safer World) announced, and £1 billion committed over the next 4 years to support these areas. This includes the potential for robots working in extreme environments to enable safer working practices, which has clear benefits in terms of efficiency and cost saving in many aspects of the marine industry.

Andrew Kay gave an overview of the ORE Catapult and its work to determine what the industry needs to test the use of autonomous systems in the offshore renewables industry. The ORE Catapult is a world-class industrial research and testing organisation for advancing wind, wave and tidal energy. As such it has a range of marine technology test assets in Blyth, Northumberland and an open access 7MW Offshore Wind turbine in Levenmouth, Fife.  One of the latest innovations from the ORE Catapult is a £325K investment to identify ways in which they can improve their testing and validation for autonomous and robotics systems. ORE catapult is keen to receive ideas and suggestions from academia and industry as it firmly believes Robotics has the potential to improve performance, reduce the risks to manned operations, and accelerate cost reduction.

Phil Johnson from SEICHE AutoNaut spoke about how they have developed wave propelled and unmanned craft to carry out a wide range of activities such as acoustic monitoring and water quality monitoring. Phil talked about the challenges that his industry faces, including the verifiable collection of data, to ensure the provision of data that the customer will trust. He described the rapidly evolving field as ‘an ideas magnet’.  At this early stage in its development, the sector is generating hundreds of possible applications across defence, science and commerce – with ‘killer applications’ that can gain widespread usage yet to emerge.

Dan Hook is Business Development Director at ASV Global Ltd, which employs over 100 people developing autonomous craft and mission systems. Dan is also Chairman of the Maritime Autonomous Systems Council. He pointed out that Norway has devoted an entire fjord to the testing of ASVs and that the UK faces robust overseas competition. He believes that Cornwall can compete very strongly in this field, especially with its access to deep Atlantic waters for testing. He said that presently, autonomous road systems are grabbing all the headlines and that the marine robotics and AI industry needs to raise its profile. Dan stressed that the field is developing rapidly and that it has come a long way in the last five years. Continuing development over the next five years will see this emerging market begin to mature, with corresponding advances in infrastructure, skills, training, insurance and standards.

Dr Asiya Khan introduced the work being done by the Plymouth University’s Autonomous Systems Group and the leading-edge research that they are doing in this area. She stressed the importance of academia and business working more closely in the way that projects are developed, so that the  technology can realise its full potential in commercial markets.

The next speaker was Jeremy Sneller, MD of TouchByte, who specialise in face recognition software. This kind of technology is used at airports, but could easily find applications in the marine industry, for crew recognition, in terms of well-being, security access and permit to work. As the sophistication of face recognition software increases, a trend for the future could be ‘pay by your face’, with recognition technology replacing credit cards.

Dr Martin Stoelen then showcased Plymouth University’s work on the GummiArm, a robotic arm that has been developed to carry out a wide range of tasks, including handling delicate items – such as picking fruit. This manipulation technology, which is able to provide both a firm grip and a soft touch could also have applications in the marine sector for complex tool operations in confined spaces and subsea working.

Caitlin Gould presented the work done by Bluefruit, who are embedded software specialists. She described this as a period of rapid change and development, with software innovation taking place across a broad range of technologies. Caitlin pointed out that the advent of the “smart ship” could prove to be just as disruptive as the arrival of the smartphone.

Dr Philipp Thies from the University of Exeter talked about the work being done on autonomous data collection, how R&D is being applied to commercial projects in renewable energy, and the challenges of testing in a real-life environment. He also detailed how autonomous air and sea platforms could work together.

The group then participated in roundtable discussions which covered a wide range of topics including:

  • the challenge of accurate data capture and building customer trust
  • the need for more inter-disciplinary teams, with better joined up thinking between technology research and development, software development, engineering, market research and implementation (and learning from sectors outside marine technology)
  • measuring the impact of marine technology on marine ecosystems
  • Cyber-security
  • integrating robotics and AI into long term planning. (For example, wind turbines are not currently designed with robotic maintenance in mind.)

“It was great to go to more of a learning angled event (versus marketing shows). We learned a lot and really enjoyed the conversations.” – Caitlin Gould, Bluefruit Software

“It was a great event and I personally made some really useful contacts. Robotics and autonomous systems are the future for marine technology and Marine-i events such as this help businesses discover how they can maximise the opportunity.” – Dan Hook, Senior Director, ASV Global

I really enjoyed the meeting and learned a few things besides.” - Brian Green, Lamorna BDM, Business Development – Management Consultant