Author: Joe Tidball, Survey Manager
Subsea data is not only crucially important, it is also deeply interesting. Mapping uncharted depths and scouting for signs of life, inspecting vast feats of engineering and averting potential catastrophe, underwater data is always fascinating – and always hard to get.
As Survey Manager at Rovco, my work is a constant re-evaluation of how we do things below the surface. Whether man-made or natural; underwater structures and habitats are notoriously hard to assess. Data surrounding the maintenance, density, and variation of these areas is powerful because it is so difficult to acquire. Finding innovative solutions to related data issues is a way to harness some of that power.
Terrestrial assets are immediately accessible, but the equipment list (and usually the price) of data acquisition begins to extend the further up or down you go from there. In the case of subsea, extra equipment such as drop cameras, ROVs or diving gear is needed just to see beyond the limit of visibility at the surface. The benefit to companies with the capability to collect this information is that they are able to exploit a gap in our understanding of the world and use it to an advantage – not just for the company – but to humanity.
Any subsea data that is collected can be tracked back to benefiting people first and foremost. Whether marine habitat samples are being collected for offshore planning decisions, assets are being maintained for the energy sector or engineering projects that make modern life so much easier – it all benefits us in some every-day way.
Rovco, for example, are based in Bristol, a city with many famous bridges, several of which stand on underwater foundations. The maintenance of these bridges is crucial to the infrastructure of the city, without high quality underwater data from a scour assessment, we would have no idea how safe the people using them really are. Similarly, Rovco survey offshore wind turbine monopiles for ongoing scour protection, monitoring and prevention. These surveys, amongst others, minimise the risk of future operating problems. Access to this data gives the power to say if a bridge or turbine is solid, averting potential risk and benefiting thousands of people with one survey.
Being so powerful, subsea data comes with its share of problems and complexities. We try to see these issues as potential for innovation, as technology capable of collecting information has such scope for improvement and creativity. The main issues at present are the size of the data, transmission, and security. Needless to say, cost is also a factor, with higher accuracy and precision coming at a sharp economic increase. Co-Founder and CTO of Rovco, Dr Iain Wallace, was previously working on the Mars Rover program, generating new ways to transmit large data quickly, safely, and easily from uninhabitable environments. These skills are being used similarly subsea, and once revolutionary new ways of transferring the information become commonplace, the cost issue will also be resolved – leading to many industry changes such as more affordable renewables and advanced engineering projects.
Our latest innovations approach subsea data collection with an ambitious, revolutionary angle. They can be used for subsea metrology, photogrammetry, and creating live 3D models with millimetric accuracy. These are delivered via dense 3D point clouds, immediately available for review, in real-time. We use live computer vision to expand our technological limitations, benefiting from high-quality, cost-effective, and cutting-edge solutions to offshore and subsea challenges.
The future won’t just see advancements in acquisition; Microsoft’s new undersea data centre shows the future of subsea information may be more literal than previously thought. Continued underwater research in all sectors will see providers of faster, more reliable and more shareable data come out on top. Rovco are leading that charge.