The sun was shining over more than 5,000 visitors who attended this year’s Ocean Business. Celebrating its tenth year, the event, organized by Diversified Communications UK, drew in record numbers from more than 65 countries and featured over 350 international exhibitors.
As soon as you arrived at the National Oceanography Center (NOC), it was evident the exhibitors were more focused than ever on doing business – a sign perhaps that things have been a little tricky for many over the last year. But, while moving between the bustling stands, it was also clear there was a cautiously optimistic buzz in the air.
I stopped off at Sea-Bird Scientific to see the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE award-winning SeapHOx – the new solid-state pH sensor for stable and accurate long-term ocean pH measurements. Geoff MacIntyre, Sea-Bird’s Director of Marketing & Product Management said, “The attendance and mood at Ocean Business this year are both encouraging. It seemed like the impact from the Oil & Gas downturn has stabilized and the ocean technology community is starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
The industry’s move towards miniaturization was more apparent than ever with the dozens of new compact sensors and platforms on show. On the first day, Rock Seven introduced ‘the world’s smallest two-way satellite communications platform with integrated antenna’. Planet Ocean Ltd also held a press event introducing the new spin-off company, ecoSUB Limited, along with the new range of ‘advanced, small, affordable AUV technology.'
Kongsberg had the new generation of small platforms on show which included the REMUS 100, 600 and 6000 AUVs. And, a new start-up from Switzerland, Hydromea, has also entered the emerging market with the Hydromea VERTEX AUV - ‘the smallest, most integrated commercial AUV in the world.'
I spoke with Hydromea’s founders, Dr. Felix Schill and Dr. Alexander Bahr, who revealed the main feature that separates this product from other micro AUVs on the market – it’s ability to intelligently ‘swarm.' By using the innovative swarm technology, Hydromea can create rich 3D datasets, delivering water quality measurements at an unprecedented resolution. To achieve this, they also built the ‘smallest optical modem on the market’ which is a 10th of the volume of any other product and weighs just 200 grams.
Experiencing Ocean Business for the first time as an exhibitor, Bahr said, “It is not difficult to know that this is the event to go to if you're in the industry. And for us, a start-up on a small budget, we cannot fly to China or the USA, but the UK is very feasible logistically. It also lets us see what’s happening in the market right now. It's definitely an exciting time. Especially as it's not the most exhilarating field in the world because it is so infrastructure-dependent and slow moving. But now, there seems to be a breath of fresh air.”
Schill added, “There are a lot of new sensors and a whole bunch from AML Oceanographic and Turner that are constantly getting smaller. Perhaps this sudden wave of new products is due to the Drone Revolution in aerial robotics. There's a lot of activities in this area, and many people are trying to push this revolution underwater. There is also pressure to innovate, but I think it’s a great thing - when things are moving forward, new opportunities and ideas arise.”
Held alongside Ocean Business, I was thrilled to talk at Ocean Careers – a fantastic event designed to help aspiring graduates get a foothold in the ocean technology, marine science and offshore industries. On the final morning, I shared some journalism insights on how to effectively communicate face-to-face with potential employers. While most graduates these days already have a growing online presence, many struggle to communicate in person.
The one-2-one sessions that followed talks let graduates practice this skill with a variety of industry experts such as the Ocean Careers keynote speaker Stephen Hall, Chief Executive of Society for Underwater Technology, UK.
Hayley Santer, Freelance Hydrographic Surveyor at XYZH and Ocean Career’s speaker commented, “It’s not just students that attend Ocean Careers. There were a couple of people who had left the armed forces and looking for a route in where they could use their experience to get a step ahead. There were also a few people from other backgrounds; including software development and product design, who wanted to apply their skills specifically in our industry. Seeing how enthusiastic the visitors were reminded me how lucky I am to work in a forward thinking, technologically advancing and cooperative industry.”
Ocean Business was, as always, a cracking event. Despite some harder times in the industry recently, the improving mood was unmissable. The event provides a unique opportunity to catch up with familiar faces as well as meet the new wave of organizations pushing the industry forward.
Technology drives what scientists can do and, as a result, the scientist's questions change. I look forward to seeing how the latest innovative in ocean engineering influences science over the coming years and if the robotic revolution becomes as successful underwater as it has in the air.
The NOC Business Development Manager, Aiden Thorn added, “I've been involved with Ocean Business from the NOC side of things since it was first talked about in 2006 and that first show in 2007. It's great to see it still thriving 10 years on. It feels like a really special show for the industry, and that atmosphere is really evident on the show floor, in the training and demo sessions, and the social events. It has stayed fresh and relevant because Diversified works so closely with the industry to deliver this first-class event in our world-leading research center.”
By: Kira Coley, ECO UK Correspondent