Autonomous Marine Systems explores RoboValley

28 Jun 2016, 12:01 Jurjen Slump

Eamon Carrig and Chris Kennedy from Autonomous Marine Systems (AMS), a start-up from Boston, visited RoboValley last week. The trip to Delft was part of the prize they won at the RoboBusiness US Pitchfire event in September of last year. They came to do a little sightseeing of course, but the main reason was business. And they were impressed by everything RoboValley has to offer. “Delft is a powerhouse.”

Carrig (CEO) and Kennedy (Mechanical Engineer) started their trip at the RoboValley headquarters, where we sat down with them and talked about their company, Delft University of Technology and a future that is about bringing the Internet to the bottom of the ocean floor.

AMS builds the ‘Datamaran’, an autonomous sailing vessel which can collect various types of hydrographic data which can be used for both scientific and commercial purposes. Among their customers are oil and gas companies and the Department of Defence. “For example, our customers want to know what the ocean floor looks like”, says Kennedy. “We use acoustic location to do that.”

“When you have hundreds of Datamarans, you can do things that nobody was able to do before”

The Datamaran is a robust vehicle that uplifts itself when it capsizes, which allows it to function in every weather condition. It communicates through a satellite or cellular network. Both Carrig and Kennedy have a background in the spacecraft industry, where they learned to build simple constructions that work extremely well and have a high reliability. The sail of the Datamaran, for example, is built of an airplane wing.

In the Ship Design Lab

They have already built one Datamaran, but what they really want is to build a fleet of Datamarans which will sail out and work together. “When you have a dozens or hundreds more, you can do things that nobody was able to do before”, says Carrig. For example, you can make highly accurate models, which can be used to optimise shipping routes by giving real-time reports on ocean currents.

But it doesn’t stop there. “When you think of all our boats and underwater assets in a particular area, you can form a complex network that resembles the Internet. One boat acts as a normal link, with multiple boats the connection is a kind of internet service provider for the seas”, envisions Carrig. “We want to bring the Internet to the oceans.”

"You can literally log in to a computer on the bottom of the ocean from behind your desk!”

Such a network drastically reduces costs and the risk for personnel, as diving to those underwater assets is no longer required for gathering data. And the technology is developing fast. “I think that we’re only months away from being able to direct one of our boats above an underwater asset and then establish a real time communication between the two. Then you can literally log in to a computer on the bottom of the ocean from behind your desk!”

They expect to start building a fleet within five years. And when their business expands, they will certainly open a branch in Europe. “The North Sea is very oil rich”, says Carrig, and it’s a particularly tough environment. “So we think that there is a really good opportunity for us here.”

“As far as robotics go, we have all heard of Delft”

Which country along the North Sea they choose remains to be seen, but we hope that they will settle in RoboValley. They already were familiar with Delft University of Technology. “It’s one of those names that’s always around.” And it’s a ‘perennial powerhouse’ in the Formula Student Team. “But as far as robotics go, we have all heard of Delft”.

During the tour around campus they spent a lot of time in the Ship Design Lab, where Robbert Hekkenberg showed them around. They were very excited, as such a testing facility doesn’t exist in Boston.

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Team Delft, finalists in the Amazon Picking Challenge, drew their attention as well. As did the several project teams in D:DREAM Hall. In particular, they spent a lot of time at the Dutch Solar Challenge Boat and with Project MARCH. They described the D:DREAM Hall as a ‘candy shop’ and were happy to learn that Delft University of Technology stimulates students to participate in dream teams.

Back at our headquarters, they talked with our Funding Manager Raoul Oostenbrink about the RoboValley Investment Fund. So hopefully, in a couple of years, when you’re strolling down the Pier in Scheveningen during a lovely summers’ day and look down, there may be a chance that you’ll see a Datamaran cruising around in our waters…

Thanks for your visit, Eamon and Chris! We had a great time showing you around!

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