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Probing the Depths Without Getting Wet - New Marine Sensor Technologies Unvieled at Dublin Workshop

New technologies for monitoring the depths of the ocean and other aquatic environments around the clock were unvieled at a meeting of European marine sensor technology researchers in Dublin recently.

Accurate and replicable measurement is the basis of the scientific approach, and while there has been tremendous progress over the last two decades, many science goals remain elusive because we simply do not have the tools to make the necessary observations and measurements. With this in mind, European Marine Sensor Technology researchers met at Dublin City University recently to exchange information on new and emerging developments in marine sensor technologies. New developments in “omics” sciences, the use of innovative stimulus and photo-responsive materials, Lab-on-a-Chip (LOAC) technologies and using chemistry to replace electronics were among the emerging technologies presented that could drive the future development of the marine sensors sector. Prof Dermot Diamond (National Centre for Sensor Research, DCU), Dr Chantal Compère (Sensor Research Laboratory, Ifremer, France), Dr Matt Mowlem (Sensor Development Group, National Oceanographic Centre Southampton, UK) and Prof João Borges de Sousa (Underwater Systems and Technology Laboratory, Porto University, Portugal) described cutting edge sensor research being pursued by their laboratories. Participating European SMEs (e.g. OPTIMARE, MARAC, Chelsea Technologies, NKE Instrumentation) described new products and services coming on the market and the necessity of close collaboration between institutional researchers and those working in SMEs throughout the development life cycle from initial concept to operational products. In addition to exchanging information on new developments in sensor development, the Workshop also heard of new developments in the platforms that host sensors: from airborne mounted sensors for the detection and identification of oil pollution, to autonomous sensing devices deployed in-situ on fixed data buoys and sensors attached to mobile autonomous and remotely operated vehicles, gliders and vessels of opportunity. New demonstration/test facilities to support marine technology, including sensor development, such as the Irish SmartBay initiative (http://www.marine.ie/smartbay) and the Spanish Canary Island Oceanic Platform (http://www.plocan.eu) were described. Prof Gwyn Griffiths, Head of the Underwater Systems Laboratory at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK) and convenor of the Marine Technology Theme of the UK Natural Environmental Research Council’s Oceans 2025 Programme, welcomed the development of demonstration/test facilities pointing out that, using a Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) approach, the gap between system technology prototype demonstration in an operational environment (TRL 7) and systems technology qualified through test and demonstration (TRL 8) is often well addressed in North America through high risk start-up funding, but is weak in Europe. This puts European researchers/SMEs at a disadvantage in accessing global markets with qualified and tested products. Prof Diamond agreed with this perspective, pointing out that a critical gap in our research and innovation funding profile was the unlocking of cooperation between SMEs and multinationals on scaled up deployments of prototype instruments, devices and associated services. Even modest scale-up (e.g.10-20 devices), he said, would suffice in that delivery of these devices is really the role of SMEs, whereas the knowledge lies in the Universities and HEI-based research centres, and the multinationals are focused on the bigger picture. The existence of this gap is the principle reason why so few research projects lead to real commercial products and demonstrable socio-economic impact. One of the key objectives of Sea Change - A Marine Knowledge, Research & Innovation Strategy for Ireland (2007-2013), is to build new research capacity and capability to create new marine-related commercial opportunities. Under the Sea Change Advanced Technology Programme research initiatives such as the seven-year Beaufort Marine Research Award in Marine Sensors and Communications, the EPA / MI funded Deploy Project (which focuses on scaled up field trials) and the establishment of strategic industry partnerships, e.g. IBM and SmartBay Pilot Project, aim to address this gap. While many international market analyses have identified environmental sensor technologies as a major growth area and many sensor developers had anticipated that more stringent environmental policies and monitoring requirements, such as those proposed under the EU Water Framework and Marine Strategy Directives, would stimulate the market for new sensor arrays (market pull), there was little evidence of this yet occurring. New funding models need to be explored said Richard Burt (Chelsea Technologies Group) who described new innovative partnerships between sensor developers and vessels of opportunity. In the example given, cruise liners are sponsoring real-time sensors which are mounted on board giving passengers up-to-date information on the quality and status of the waters they are traversing. The cruise liners get real-time information that can improve vessel safety and operating efficiency, passengers get interesting information, the sensor developers get funding to test their systems, science gets the data: a win-win for all! In a session on “What can Funding Organisations do to better support sensor research? researchers emphasised the need to elaborate mid to long-term funding strategies, avoid the stop-start approach to funding and facilitate the development and retention of key expertise. Industry participants unanimously stressed the need to bridge the funding gap between the laboratory prototype and operational field equipment, supporting Prof Griffiths arguments. Participating SMEs also stressed the need for publically funded researchers to better understand the commercialisation process. The Workshop “New Developments in Marine Sensor Technologies: Opportunities and Challenges” was sponsored by the EU FP6 MarinERA Project (www.marinera.net) and attended by over 35 researchers and SMEs from 8 European Member States. ENDS For further information contact: Dr John Joyce, Communcations Manager, Marine Institute (john.joyce@marine.ie) 087 2250871 EU FP6 MarinERA Project (2004-2009) The EU FP6 MarinERA Project (2004-2009) is a network of leading European Marine Research Funding Organisations established to foster enhanced co-operation and collaboration in marine research funding. Copies of all Workshop presentations can be downloaded from the MarinERA website (www.marinera.net). The Workshop Report (MarinERA Publication No. 9, April 2009) will be available shortly for download from: http://www.marinera.net/dissemination/tec_reports.html Beaufort Marine Research Award in Sensors and Communications Awardee: National Centre for Sensor Research, Dublin City University. Duration: 2007-2013 Grant Aid: €2.5m This team is focusing on the following key areas: Industry-oriented research in the field of sensors, intelligent systems and sensor platforms for monitoring water quality and the marine environment; Investigation of microbial growth on surfaces: combating bio-fouling of sensors and environmental platforms; Microfluidic chip based miniaturised analytical devices for use in marine monitoring; Visual sensing of environmental conditions; Bacterial sensing based on biochip fluoro-immunoassay; Project development of genetically engineered, high stable & specific biorecognition ligands for detection of marine contaminants; and Microfluidics. The grant award provides funding for 1 Principal Investigator (PI), 1 Senior Researcher, 5 PhD Scholarships and 14 Students For further information contact: Professor Dermot Diamond, National Centre for Sensor Research, Dublin City University. Email: dermot.diamond@dcu.ie The Beaufort Marine Research Awards are funded under the Marine Research Sub-Programme of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 Smart Catchment Demonstration Long Term Deployment of Sensor Monitoring System (DEPLOY) is a 3-Year project jointly funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Marine Institute under the STRIVE Programme/Marine Research Sub-Programme. It is managed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Partners include: NCSR - DCU (Dr Fiona Regan), Tyndall National Institute (Brendan O'Flynn), Intelligent Data Systems Ltd. (John Wallace) and the South Western RBD (Sean O'Beascaill). This exciting demonstration project represents an important collaboration between research centres, SMEs and local authorities with technical and analytical expertise to DEPLOY, maintain and evaluate a series of multi-sensor systems to assess the effects of long-term sensor development on water quality monitoring systems and sensor data. The multi-sensor systems deployed can act as a "live" platform for parallel projects (funded elsewhere) and as a test bed to implement and evaluate water quality monitoring systems and deployment infrastructures (such as wireless data transfer mechanisms, novel sensors, sensor interfacing etc.) required to meet the demands of the Water Framework Directive. SmartBay SmartBay Galway is a national research infrastructure project. It comprises of a network of buoys, seafloor cables and other infrastructure, supporting a range of sensors, information systems, telemetry and other communication technologies. Together they provide the basis for in-situ, real time oceanographic monitoring. The vision is to provide a marine based research, test and demonstration platform which will encourage leading edge researchers and industry consortia to collaborate together on important commercial and environmental research to develop new products and services to tap into the global market for environmental technologies. The objective is to advance opportunities associated with marine resource development and to enhance our ability to monitor and manage our marine resources. The strategic objectives are aligned with the National Strategy for Science and Technology and Sea Change.

Keywords

Marine sensor technology

Countries

United States