Unmanned maritime vehicle developer rides wave of success with defence customers

Contributor:  Andrew Elwell
Posted:  08/22/2012

What if you could put a robot in the middle of the ocean and leave it to remotely scan the seas continuously for a year? What if a Navy could do that and significantly increase the amount of maritime data it collates, while saving money on operational costs?

“Defence, and the U.S. government sector in general, has continued to be a very quick growing sector for us,” said Bill Vass, CEO of Liquid Robotics Inc., a California-based company developing self-propelled and continuous Unmanned Maritime Vehicles (UMVs). “The need for a platform that collects ocean data, whether it’s for persistent surveillance or to act as a communication hub, is getting greater and greater all the time. The cost of doing that [via traditional methods] is going up all the time too, so we’re a game-changer from a cost perspective.”

The company, which develops UMVs that use wave and solar energy to remotely power themselves for up to 12 months at a time, recently created a new subsidiary, Liquid Robotics Federal LLC, to focus on its rapidly growing government and defence business.

“With the new federal subsidiary we’re expecting to do some deals with the large defence contractors, and we’re already talking to quite a number of them. It will accelerate our business in the defence sector,” Vass told Defence IQ in an exclusive interview.

“Establishing a dedicated federal subsidiary and attracting as accomplished a government market executive as Grant Palmer, provides the right infrastructure and the right leader, at the right time to address the growing demands of the U.S. government to monitor and protect America’s maritime security interests and enable advanced scientific missions.”

The company’s autonomous platform is known as the SHARC (Sensor Hosting Autonomous Remote Craft) to its defence clients – commercially it is called the Wave Glider – with the core platform focused on surveillance and communication. However, as the technology matures the company will look to develop a range of different sub-systems that can be used for a wide variety of applications.

Vass explained that “as more people hear about us and see what we’re doing, the more ideas they have about how they could apply the platform.” But ultimately, Vass said, “our goal is to do any type of data collection, monitoring and surveillance that you would do with a boat.”

Navies are looking at SHARC for applications including long duration surveillance at sea, vessel support, and it can even act as a communication hub, like an ocean-based GPS satellite.

“If you’re planning any type of operation in the ocean, knowing the nowcasting and what’s going on at a specific location is very important. These applications are being used by the U.S. Navy and other navies around the world.”

On the commercial side, where Vass has recently signed a deal with Schlumberger to form the Liquid Robotics Oil & Gas joint venture, the applications are vast. For example, the company was recently the subject of a Discovery Channel feature where its technology was being used to track sharks and view them in real-time via an iPad app.

The vast majority of the company’s federal business is in the defence sector, with the split being around 70% defence, 30% commercial and civilian according to the CEO. This is a trend Vass expects to continue, with defence being the company’s “largest and fastest-growing customer base.”

The role of unmanned aerial systems in the military has increased significantly over the last decade. If the maritime community embraces this technology to anywhere near the same extent over the next few years, Liquid Robotics could be the next big company to emerge from Silicon Valley.

Source: Defence iQ

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