BlueBottle, the ‘satellite of the sea’, nets prestigious win

UNSW’s footballing robots help OCIUS design their award-winning autonomous seafaring solution 

Robert Dane, OCIUS CEO, recieves the Maritime Australian Defence Innovation SME Award from the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP

In early October, OCIUS Technology Ltd was awarded the prestigious Maritime Australian Defence Innovation SME Award by the Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, at the Pacific 2017 International Maritime Exposition in Sydney.

OCIUS (who have had a design facility on the UNSW campus and a contract for research in place since 2016), won the $10,000 prize for their Unmanned Surface Vessel, an ocean drone called “BlueBottle” which is being widely hailed as a ‘satellite of the sea’.

BlueBottle was inspired by the eponymous Australian marine animal that uses its body as a sail, and can harness the energy of the ocean, solar, wind and wave action to power itself. This means it can stay at sea almost indefinitely, under all weather conditions, monitoring large areas of ocean at greatly reduced cost and with no one in harm’s way.

Although OCIUS CEO, Robert Dane, had initially scoped out a few universities to help him with R&D for the vessel, the “clincher” was when he saw the work Professor Claude Sammut was doing with rUNSWift, UNSW’s champion autonomous robot footballers.

“As soon as I saw the football playing robots something clicked in my brain and I thought ‘We have a commercial application for that technology,’” he says.

For his part, Sammut was thrilled his research matched so perfectly with the aims of OCIUS. “It may be surprising that getting robots to play soccer is useful research, but the methods we use to coordinate team play is the same method we plan to use to coordinate a fleet of BlueBottles,” he says.

As soon as I saw the football playing robots something clicked in my brain and I thought ‘We have a commercial application for that technology.'

Robert Dane, CEO OCIUS

So, what can BlueBottle be used for? “Defence is their first application,” says Dane. “This includes underwater listening for anti-submarine warfare; above water sensing for border protection; and gateway communication - which means communicating between something in the air (i.e. a satellite), and something under the water (i.e. a submarine).”

Dane says that because they have a massive 200 – 300kg payload capacity, have a lot of power and can stay in the water for significant periods of time, there are plenty of commercial and scientific applications too. “This might include things like surveying for oil and gas pipelines, assisting with seismic studies and weather monitoring,” he says.

Further platforms might include environmental modelling continues Sammut. “They might be used to observe the health of the Great Barrier Reef for example or used in wildlife conservation and fisheries. It may also be possible to set them up as a sensor array for tsunami warning,” he says.

For Dane, winning the award is the culmination of over seven years work on the BlueBottle and over 20 years’ experience in the field and he says it was a great honour to be nominated, let alone win it. He already has plenty of ideas of how to use the prize money in targeted research.

“We’ve been invited to apply for further funding under the Government’s new Defence Innovation Hub CRC and will be putting in a bid in two areas of research in collaboration with our colleagues at UNSW. Our experience of working with the University has been absolutely terrific and we are very excited about the future, particularly as the help is mutually beneficial. It would be wonderful, as we progress the technology, to be able to help the rUNSWift team continue to win the Robocup competition as well!”

Watch OCIUS BlueBottle on 9News Sydney

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