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Swarms of underwater robots for fast & accurate water quality measurements

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VERTEX (Swarms of underwater robots for fast & accurate water quality measurements)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2018-09-30

Oceans & lakes cover 70%+ our planet, contain 90% of all life & yet are not well-explored. Underwater is a very challenging environment to study—the electromagnetic waves barely pierce the water surface. This means that a lot of things that aerial, ground & space drones can easily do are much more difficult underwater.

Yet, measurements of various physical & chemical parameters that contribute to water quality are in a great demand. They include temperature maps (showing changes throughout the day) or gradient measurements of pollution & tracer gases (helping to reveal the sources of polluting plumes). Many of these types of spatio-temporal measurements are difficult & costly to take with the current technology, which revolves around dedicated boats & crews that lower measurement probes to capture a sample & retrieve them for later analysis in laboratories.

In addition to the high OPEX of obtaining even a small number of measurements (boats & crews are expensive), current technology faces an additional problem. A single probe can only take measurements at a single location & at a single point in time. It is thus not able to collect the relevant information before it becomes obsolete due to the rapidly changing ocean environment. The only way to collect these measurements is by using a large number of sensors that are spatially distributed around the water volume in question.

To address these 2 problems at Hydromea we have developed Vertex—the world’s smallest autonomous underwater vessel (AUV) that is based on a number of important proprietary technologies (including a novel patented propulsion system). Thanks to the in-house developed underwater communication & localization technology Vertex AUVs can be combined into swarms that drastically improve the quality of collected data. These swarms can scale to hundreds of vessels, capable of measuring a large number of parameters, over large water volumes.
Over the last 6 months in the course of this Phase 1 project, we visited multiple industry events, conducted customer and stakeholder interviews, and background research.

As a result, we picked three market segments to investigate further. For each of them, we describe the main problem of our customers that fits our technology, propose a solution and carry out a cost and benefit analysis. After an initial exploration phase, we focused mainly on a single industry, as they spend a substantial amount of their revenue on environmental monitoring.

In one sector, we identified multiple opportunities. However, one industry is very difficult to penetrate, and we are still actively pursuing leads. We did identify another application that we can address with our technology, with a shorter route to market based on our analysis.

• We have strengthened our belief that we have a unique, strong market position. Our product is highly competitive in terms of novelty and cost compared with the current state of the art.
• We identified 3 market sectors where we have a strong solution with our technology:
• We have identified industrial partners in sveral industries to carry out trials next year.
• Through attendance of events, we gained a new advisor and new opportunities for our technology in a new sector.
Globally, we are growing ever more dependent on our water bodies due to an increasing population, particularly in the coastal areas. Many EU nations have long coastlines & a large number of inland waters that are used for habitat, food production & recreation. The health of these water bodies is also strongly affected by the climate change & anthropogenic causes. However, for measuring even the simplest health indicators of these water bodies there is no cost-effective method to obtain the data with high spatial resolution.
The Vertex AUV operating in turbid water