Carlingford firm XOCEAN, run by two Engineers Ireland Engineer of the Year recipients, tells Ken Mitchell how it is utilising its growing fleet of unmanned surface vessels (USVs) to offer ocean data collection services to surveyors, companies and agencies
Tech

A Carlingford based company is both literally and figuratively ‘making waves’ with its ground-breaking product, reports Ken Mitchell.

XOCEAN was founded in 2017 and is based on the Cooley peninsula in Co Louth, an area more famous for its beautiful scenery and outdoor activities than cutting-edge technology but the company is fast changing that perception.

An XOCEAN unmanned surface vessel

Known in the industry as unmanned surface vessels (USVs), XOCEAN utilises its growing fleet to offer ocean data collection services to surveyors, companies and agencies.

Impressive credentials and marine industry experience


The XOCEAN team come with impressive credentials and marine industry experience. The company boasts not one, but two, Engineers Ireland Engineer of the Year recipients: founder James Ives is a fellow of Engineers Ireland who was previously the CEO of an international marine energy business and a senior manager at Accenture; and chief technical officer, Andrew Carlisle.

As an extensive buyer of ocean data in his previous role, Ives saw the need to transform the way in which ocean data was captured: “There is huge growth in the marine sector and the foundation of that growth is data. As a customer, I thought there had to be a better way to collect it.”

It is a staggering thought that 95 per cent of the world’s oceans are still unmapped and, with the OECD forecasting that the global ocean economy is expected to double its current value of $1.5 trillion by 2030, XOCEAN is well poised to take a share of this market.

The company is offering turnkey data collection services to surveyors, companies and agencies. Commercial applications include seabed mapping, fish stock surveys, data harvesting, meteorology and environmental monitoring.

‘No data, no fee’ guarantee


The company offers a ‘no data, no fee’ guarantee. “We manage everything from mobilisation right up to the delivery of the data to our customers,” says Ives.

Traditionally, this type of data has been collected on conventional manned ships, but XOCEAN’s approach offers three major advantages.

First, it’s safer, as no humans are required to go offshore. Second, it’s more efficient as USVs can operate and collect data non-stop, 24/7. And thirdly, it’s around a third of the cost of conventional methods.

XOCEAN’s USVs can be at sea for up to 18 days continuously and the boats are easily transported. The 750kg car sized USVs can be put on a road trailer or in a shipping container and transported anywhere with relative ease, then launched from a slipway. This facilitates fast mobilisation.

Trained USV pilots monitor the vessels 24/7


The vessels are escorted out of the harbour by a safety boat and once in clear water, control is handed over to trained USV pilots who monitor the vessels 24/7 via a secure satellite connection from XOCEAN’s operations centre.

XOCEAN’s flagship USV is the XO-450 catamaran type vessel. The company prides itself on being environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Its USVs consume 1,000 times less fuel than a conventional vessel and the manufacturing carbon footprint represents 1,300 times less impact.

The USV is powered by a hybrid power system comprising a ‘micro’ diesel generator and a solar deck that works in conjunction to keep the 5kWh lithium ion batteries charged and able to power both the sensor payload as well as the electric thrusters. The USV travels at about 3.5kn, giving it a range of 1,500 nautical miles.

The 750kg wave-piercing catamaran type hull has been proven to be highly stable in extreme wave conditions via wave tank testing performed at the Lir National Ocean Test Facility in Co Cork.

It thus provides a stable and robust platform for mounting the sensors, yet is small enough to minimise propulsion power consumption for extended-duration operations.

The USV is operated remotely over satellite. This allows customers to have real-time view access of the USV at sea including live images, position reports, weather data and the survey data as it is gathered.

Where applicable, the data can be processed offshore with only results files transmitted over the satellite connection. At the end of the mission, a hard drive with the full mission data is removed and delivered to the customer.

The vessels satellite data link uses both the Iridium and Inmarsat constellations to provide redundancy for communications.

XOCEAN USV control room

XOCEAN’s CyberDeck provides a highly secure cloud-based environment to monitor and control each USV. The USV pilot defines a route consisting of a series of waypoints, and this is uploaded to the USV over the satellite link.

Once satisfied that it is safe to do so, the USV pilot engages the autopilot and the vessel tracks the selected route. The USV tracks to a high degree of precision, typically +/-0.6m.

Based on the information provided to the USV pilot, he/she has the same choices that any vessel master has: stand on, stop or alter course/speed. The CyberDeck allows XOCEAN to monitor the quality of the data being collected and to adjust both the USV and sensor parameters as required.

Acoustic fisheries research data


In June 2018, XOCEAN, in partnership with Ireland’s Marine Institute, used its USV to collect acoustic fisheries research data for use in stock assessment of Celtic Sea Herring. The USV proved capable of collecting high-quality acoustic data suitable for inclusion in stock assessment datasets.

In October and November 2018, XOCEAN successfully completed demonstrations of its USVs over the horizon bathymetric survey capability.

Surveys were performed in Carlingford Lough and the Irish Sea, controlled over a satellite internet connection by a team of USV pilots in XOCEAN’s operations centre. XOCEAN’s XO-450 was demonstrated to be a robust platform for multibeam echo sounder surveys.

Realising the massive potential of this ‘data as a service’ offering, Enterprise Ireland has awarded the company the coveted High Potential Start-up (HPSU) status. With this backing, the company continues to increase its USV fleet and is in the process of commissioning new vessels.

For more information, visit xocean.com

Author: Kenneth Mitchell, BEng, HDip, MSc CEng, MIEI, is a chartered engineer in the fields of chemical and environmental engineering

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A Carlingford based company is both literally and figuratively 'making waves' with its ground-breaking product, reports Ken Mitchell. XOCEAN was founded in 2017 and is based on the Cooley peninsula in Co Louth, an area more famous for its beautiful scenery and outdoor activities than cutting-edge technology but the company...