Open Ocean Robotics
July 14, 2022
Autonomous boats provide ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ for more complete maritime domain awareness
Julie and Colin Angus, co-founders of Victoria-based Open Ocean Robotics, came up with the idea of an autonomous boat back in 2005. At the time, the newly engaged couple was in the middle of a five-month attempt to row from mainland Europe to North America, a global first, when they and their small plywood rowboat were caught up in a hurricane. They had to battle their way through 50-foot waves for three days. “The advantages of using an uncrewed vessel to explore and report on the ocean environment became… very clear to us,” laughs Julie.
They founded Open Ocean Robotics in 2018. The marine robotics and software company provides autonomous data collection via sensor-laden autonomous boats — in essence a drone for the marine environment. Their boats are powered by solar energy, designed to be deployed for months at a time and in extreme sea states.
Today, their Victoria-based company is partnered with MDA on an exciting project, through the company’s LaunchPad program for innovative young businesses. “MDA is a global leader in providing satellite-based solutions for maritime domain awareness, and what we are exploring with this project is how our data can complement theirs,” explains Julie. “With satellites you can see the whole world, all the oceans — you have that big picture lens. And you can find dark targets [boats that are engaged in illegal activities often have their Automatic Identification System (AIS) turned off]. They can find them, and we can find out more about them.”
Open Ocean Robotics’ boats, navigating the open ocean, can ‘see’ and ‘hear’ these dark targets in ways that are very powerful when combined with MDA's satellite data, and with data collected by other uncrewed platforms (such as high-altitude drones or balloons). Together, they provide a better understanding of what's going on in the water for security, defence and other maritime protection applications.
Julie is passionate about the project and the idea of technology solutions that can protect oceans sustainably. “It’s a really interesting puzzle that they’re solving and it’s exciting to see what we can do by combining our technology streams.” She underlines how very important the project is for Canada. “With the longest coastline in the world, we have a lot of ocean to monitor and protect. It’s impossible to do it with crewed ships — there just aren’t enough of them, it’s dangerous, and it would be far too expensive.”
Because of their LaunchPad collaboration with MDA, Julie says Open Ocean Robotics has been able to advance their technology, learn best practices from an established company that addresses similar market needs, and evaluate the potential of creating a new service in maritime monitoring using combined technologies. “We are so pleased with this opportunity. It’s very exciting that Canadian companies are showing leadership in ocean tech! We’d like nothing better than to continue to collaborate with MDA to create a more comprehensive maritime domain awareness picture for customers, both here in Canada and around the world.”