The session addressed the theme of the role of technology in the ocean-human relationship, through a panel discussion about progress, challenges and opportunities
1 Sep, 2023
The second plenary session of the IEEE/MTS OCEANS 2022 conference at Hampton roads, addressed the theme of the role of technology in the ocean-human relationship, through a panel discussion about progress, challenges and opportunities. New ideas and innovative solutions to current challenges such as protecting natural resources and different lines of business today were analyzed.
The panel session moderator was Jerry Cronin, Executive Director of the OpenSeas Technology Innovation Center at Old Dominion University. The panelists were
- Tory Cobb of the Office of Naval Research,
- Eric Terril, Director of the Marine Physical Laboratory at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
- Joshua Waver, senior scientist of Naval Sea Systems Command, and
- James Fisher of FUGRO Offshore Wind COE.
The panel began with Mr. Jerry Cronin describing about the innovation in ocean technology since the beginning of mankind, when early humans began to wonder why objects floated in the water. These early humans began to develop technologies to be able to navigate the sea, which helped the growth of commerce and led to the progress of the tribes. One example of this is the Phoenicians.
It is also worth highlighting here the communities of the South Pacific who learned to navigate great distances following the patterns and the position of the stars. One of the most prominent examples was that of the 15th century Portuguese navigators who did a great job of mapping the coasts of Africa and sharing their findings with the world.
Jerry mentioned that the cultures of the past made innovations based on the requirements of their time. Currently, the needs of developing ocean tech must be addressed jointly, which spans issues such as decarbonization, the reduction/prevention of plastic accumulation in the ocean, the search for greater efficiency in trade at sea, the development of renewable energy and prevention of illegal fishing. Doing all this without generating more environmental problems is everyone's responsibility, and the best way to find solutions is to work as a team with multidisciplinary approaches from academia, industry and the government.
The panel continued with Dr. Eric Terril, representative of the Scripps Marine Physical Laboratory, who began by sharing graphics and photographs about the history of marine technology. He showed how the teaching of applied sciences at sea began through the use of remote devices that sent data on the physical parameters measured in the water. These were the predecessors to the AUVs.
Terril also spoke about the need to find solutions to the current problems related to the ocean, one of which is the rise in sea level which results in flooding and other extreme climate events, giving as an example the projects that have been developed for observation systems. These capture data that is shared with researchers and sent to database repositories. This data can then be used to feed machine learning algorithms, which allows us to better prepare for rain and storms and inform the community about environmental and meterological conditions. Dr. Terril mentioned that another opportunity is found in the Big Data collected by remote measurement platforms, which makes it possible to detect illegal fishing practices and take action to protect natural resources.
The next participant, Dr. Joshua Weaver, is a senior scientist from the Naval surface warfare center which works on developing autonomous submersible vehicles that help with ocean research. Dr. Weaver began by sharing with the panel the interest he always had in the development of robots and how to use them to acquire data on different physical parameters that allow us to have a more complete picture of the conditions at sea. He mentioned that to achieve this objective, one of the main challenges is the autonomy of the marine vehicles. This leads to a need to develop new technologies to obtain energy offshore, and to improve the efficiency of motors and electronic devices such as sensors and controllers.
In his intervention, Dr. Weaver highlighted the importance of data collection in real time and its analysis in order to better understand the environment and share the results with society. Finally, he mentioned that the use of new algorithms and mathematical models can be the way to achieve a better understanding of oceanographic phenomena. Achieving this requires the collaboration of multiple groups.
The next part of the panel was led by Dr. Tory Cobb from the Office of Naval Research, who presented to the audience the results of an investigation carried out with machine learning techniques. He showed how sonars combined with deep learning techniques enable us to find small objects in the ocean. Thus, machine learning can turn current sensors into more efficient and useful instruments that can perform tasks that would be very complicated for a human. Dr. Cobb mentioned that the development of this technology could allow reducing size and energy requirements, achieving better results than today. In addition, this technology would encourage innovation in the investigation of the depths of the ocean at high resolution, helping fuel new discoveries.
The final panelist, James Fisher of FUGRO Offshore Wind COE, brought to the panel a diverse voice in the form of perspective from one of the industries that bases operations in the ocean, Fugro. He spoke about Fugro, a company with various businesses dealing with platforms at sea. Fisher spoke about the importance of mobile and autonomous observation platforms which collect data in real time and help different clients make better decisions about their operations. An example of this is to aid fishermen who need to know certain atmospheric parameters before they go out to sea. Fisher explained some of the technologies that the different oceanic platforms have in different parts of the world, such as: the use of 360º cameras, infrared sensors, drones equipped with aerial lidar which provide high resolution, satellites and artificial intelligence systems to obtain a better mapping of the ocean and its conditions. The information that these technologies allow construction of complex infrastructure projects such as wind energy farms to be carried out.
Overall, the diverse opinions and discussions by the panel were enriching for the attendees. Some of the conclusions were that the analysis and treatment of the data obtained by remote platforms is essential for industries, governments and research groups to make better decisions. This, in addition to the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence techniques, could help improve the exploration and understanding of the ocean.
(This article is about a plenary session held at IEEE/MTS OCEANS 2022 conference at Hampton roads. For related coverage on another plenary session on Resilient coasts, see here)