The Future is Wide Open
Crystal Lanphear, Quality Team Lead at Greensea, started testing software on day one of her employment.
What would a final article of the year be without a look back at past accomplishments and thinking about what lies ahead? I personally like to think that one may predict the future if they look back and review the past. I’m not sure if this is true, but when I look back through recent history, I pick up a pattern when I focus on major leaps in knowledge or technology advancements. The pattern I see is that major challenges are often overcome by bringing together groups of people with diverse technical backgrounds and a strong collaborative ethos. Two immediate examples can be seen in the race to the moon in the 1960’s or, more recently, in the push to create a COVID-19 vaccine. Putting someone on the moon and then getting them home, or creating a vaccine in under a year required the best minds of the time working together, using the tools they had available, and the removal of as many blockages as possible between them and their goal.
To apply that thought to the marine industry, any substantial advancement of marine technology over the next decade is going to require large-scale collaboration, the kind of collaboration that we have not yet seen in our industry. Communication advancements have removed geographical barriers and allowed us to bring together a more diverse pool of scientists and engineers. A few weeks ago, I was attending the weekly Greensea management team meeting and realized that of the management team, women now make up 50% of the group. This is really exciting to me, given how outnumbered women are in the marine industry, to see the needle moving on our team. In a similar vein, I was recently asked during a radio interview what I thought the future of robotics would look like; I responded that I thought more work being done by robots means that work historically done by men (SOF divers or EOD technicians, for example) could potentially be accomplished by a person sitting at a computer thousands of miles away.
But diversity and human communication alone is not going to drive the next major technological advancement. In order to make the next major advancement, the marine industry is going to have to become better at collaboration; part of that effort means making their systems open to collaboration. To drive advancement, products and technologies must be able to easily talk to each other. Ben Kinnaman, Greensea CEO, addressed other marine industry CEOs in a blog post earlier this year about the need for systems to integrate. “What you need to understand is that in the future of the ocean industry, your IP will be worthless if it doesn’t integrate with other systems.”1 We’re long past the time when a single human operator could put an entire system together themselves, integrations need to be facilitated at the systems level.
Ben Kinnaman, Greensea CEO, explains the MTFB culture at Greensea
No single company, working alone, is going to make the next advancement that pulls the marine industry into the future on their own. What is going to drive the next advancement and break through major technological barriers is collaboration among companies; including between those who might be considered competitors. This effort is going to require individual companies to abandon their corporate ego; to acknowledge that while you may be amazing at one thing, someone out there does something better than you, and that together you can be more than the sum of your parts. Customer goals, such as time to a minimum viable product, are going to require multiple companies to collaborate and integrate their systems. This can be made easier if all parts of the system are built on the same foundation. This foundation should be an open architecture platform.
Greensea is currently involved in several government and commercial projects that are combining and uniting the work of several marine companies into an integrated system using Greensea’s open architecture platform, OPENSEA. One of these projects is Ocean Infinity’s Armada fleet. Using the OPENSEA API and OPENSEA SDK interfaces, Greensea, Ocean Infinity, and any other partner is able to easily add a capability into the Armada DPC and, by extension, expand those capabilities to the rest of the fleet.
Just as crowdfunding has created a distributed way to secure project financing, crowd thinking will drive a distributed way to advance technology. In order to harness the power of crowd thinking for the industry, Greensea has invested in the creation of a community for marine developers and technology enthusiasts to share ideas and solutions in a public forum. Launching in early 2022, the Greensea community, located at greensea.com/community, will provide ways for systems integrators who have access to the OPENSEA API to seek out, find, and share solutions within the community. The community will be freely accessible to anyone to comment, post ideas, and share information that is pertinent to the marine industry.
There are two ways to reach a technological goal. One way is for a company to go it alone, to add more people to solve your specific problem, to own every piece of the solution. The other, more efficient way, is to create a solution that is able to be added to, even improved upon by a wider community, creating a tool that removes friction or barriers and allows for wider collaboration and integration.
There are several likely advances that will radically change the marine industry over the next few years: tetherless ROVs, resident subsea systems, and over the horizon supervision and control. Each of these advances is going to have their own ‘technological friction’ that will need to be removed, such as handling of the data stream between the operator and vehicle. Greensea was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant to advance a long range standoff command and control system for ROVs. The commercial product that has come out of this grant is SafeC2. SafeC2 removes the ‘technological friction’ of data transfer by transmitting the least amount of data necessary and synchronizing data so that, even with reduced bandwidth; sonar, video, and vehicle response will remain in sync when the operator sees them. This was recently demonstrated in one of Greensea’s recent webinars, Naomi Harrison demonstrated how she solved the issue of data stream management. 2
Naomi Harrison, Junior Robotics Engineer, explains how she managed the data stream of video during Mixtape Session #5.
Tetherless ROVs, resident subsea systems, and over-the-horizon supervision will all contribute to the larger shift in the future of marine technology; the end of the one ship, one ROV, one operator model. ROVs can and will be deployed by any means convenient while being supervised and controlled by personnel from anywhere in the world without needing to be present onsite. This will be accomplished by removing technological friction, but will also require changing the mindset of owners and operators. This may be a larger barrier than the technology friction. To change minds, there needs to be solid proof, this might be accomplished by showing financial or commercial gains, but more likely people may be convinced by seeing that the technology actually works. Much of what we see in the marine industry are promises backed by well animated videos or 3D renderings, but where we come up short is there’s very little proof of new technology working in a real life marine environment. Through our series of webinars, that we call Mixtape Sessions, we try to share as much of our real work as possible. In our Mixtape Session #5: Introduction to SafeC2, Senior Robotics Engineer Greg Horton demonstrated SafeC2 functionality by controlling a ROV that was located in the test tank at our Richmond, Vermont headquarters from his home office in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Senior Robotics Engineer Greg Horton demonstrates SafeC2 functionality by controlling a ROV located in Richmond, Vermont headquarters from his home office in Massachusetts.
There are going to be dramatic advances in marine technology over the next few years, but advances will happen faster and be more reliable IF we can integrate, collaborate, and remove barriers that currently exist between both systems, companies, and people. We believe that this can and will happen through the use of open architecture platforms like OPENSEA and a barrier removing, corporate ethos like the one shown by Greensea.
As Greensea looks back over 2021 and looks forward into 2022 and beyond, there’s one certainty - we do not have a clue as to how things will pan out. At the end of 2019, we certainly didn’t anticipate a global pandemic. 2021 was a year of immense growth for Greensea but this was growth that the strength of the “technology current” required of us. Things were changing so quickly, we just had to keep up and keep swimming. The ways that we have grown have been in the number of projects that we’ve taken on, the number of people we employ, and the number of vehicles that now use our OPENSEA platform. Greensea celebrated its 15th anniversary this year and like all teenagers, growth isn’t easy. But we keep at it, learning from any mistakes and striving to be better and to serve our customers better. Universe willing, 2022 will be another great year for all of us.