How ROVs are transforming aquaculture
by Nido Robotics, Spain
Nido Robotics' Sibiu Pro and Sibiu Nano underwater drones are a godsend for fish farmers looking to boost their business' productivity and safety while reducing CAPEX and OPEX.
Realistically, there is no reason why aquaculture should be any different from any other line of business in the 21st century, where an incessant drive to increase productivity is intertwined with the need to impose and observe safe, environmentally-responsible working conditions – and where all of this has to be offset against a similarly pressing requirement to slash operating and production costs.
In this somewhat paradoxical context, the deployment of ROVs in aquaculture makes consistently incontestable sense, negating at a stroke the expense and potential hazards of using divers to carry out an entire range of essential processes and procedures. To begin with, before a fish farm is even established an ROV can be pre-emptively sent down so that prospective startups can survey and analyse the seabed or lake floor, ensuring that they are selecting the optimal location in which to site their operation.
Once such farms are up and running, ROVs are a priceless resource for allowing managers and employees alike to rapidly and easily conduct daily spot checks on their assets. The importance of maintaining the overall integrity of the sub-surface infrastructure goes without saying; and with the detailed view afforded by high-quality ROV-mounted cameras, operators can assess at a glance the condition of the netting and installations.
Monitoring fish stocks via ROV is also the quickest way to confirm that the fish are schooling normally and thriving – or, conversely, displaying any tell-tale signs of aberrant behaviour or ill-health. A key aspect of maintaining biosecurity is the efficient execution of mort picking tasks – collecting, classifying and disposing of morts – and in this respect also, an ROV's monitoring capabilities are of fundamental assistance.
Additionally, an overriding consideration when using ROVs in the day-to-day implementation of fish farm running tasks is the simple fact that they can level the playing field, enabling employees who may lack the specific skill sets of specialist divers to benefit nevertheless from an accurate, up-to-the-minute overview of the underwater infrastructure and fish stocks. Forewarned is forearmed; and the more staff who are fully apprised of circumstances beneath the surface, the more smoothly operations will run.
One relatively new firm driving the evolution of underwater drone technology is Nido Robotics, founded in 2016 and based in Murcia, Spain, with a satellite office in Chile. The company was co-founded by Master Mariner Roy Torgersen and his business partner Enrique González, ostensibly to develop a product line of underwater robots offering an unprecedented combination of flexibility, strength, portability and simplicity of deployment.
Torgersen has accrued a wealth of relevant knowledge and experience, having spent more than a decade supervising complex operations at sea in a wide variety of global maritime industries. Allied to this, the bulk of his free time was taken up with similarly challenging scuba diving expeditions to locate lost planes. Noting a gap in the marketplace for an ROV capable of fulfilling a broad array of requirements at a competitive price, Torgersen resolved to set up a business to design and manufacture unmanned, remotely operated subsea vehicles, making advanced subsea robotics technology accessible to all.
At the heart of Nido Robotics' enterprise are two state-of-the-art ROVs. The flagship Sibiu Pro, weighing 16kg, travels at a maximum speed of three knots and can operate in depths of up to 300m. Its modular system design enables it to carry several payloads for carrying out subsea inspection, research and maintenance tasks, ranging from collecting crucial environmental data to cleaning underwater nets and mooring lines, measuring the thickness of metal structures such as pilings and offshore platforms, and assessing the condition of cathodic protection systems.
The Sibiu Pro carries an integrated 1080p camera, specially calibrated for underwater environments, which operates in tandem with four regulation-controlled 1,500 lumens lights to provide sharp live images.
For underwater applications in tight spaces where an extremely compact ROV is essential, the Sibiu Pro's smaller sister, the Sibiu Nano, weighs in at only 5kg, can descend to depths of up to 100m on its tough umbilical cable, and is effortlessly portable in its transport suitcase.
Like the Sibiu Pro, the Nano is highly manoeuvrable, boasts an integrated 1080p camera and offers full mission independence thanks to interchangeable batteries which will hold their charge for up to two hours at a time. Buyers can either opt for the build-it-yourself Maker variant or the self-explanatory Ready-to-Dive system which can essentially be put to work straight away. Nido Robotics is keen to emphasise the fact that both units can easily be launched by hand, 'by anyone, anywhere and at any time'.
Nido Robotics has already achieved several significant successes in the short time that the company has been operating. It was nominated as one of the four top robotics start-ups in the EU in 2019, while this year has seen the firm being chosen as one of 17 (from a field of more than 2,500) to organise three-month acceleration pilot programs with preeminent maritime contractors via the PortXL Business Fast Track program. As concrete proof of the company's runaway success to date, more than 150 companies worldwide have invested in Nido Robotics systems to expedite their underwater inspection and maintenance jobs.
Nido Robotics' expansion plans include the opening of new offices this year in Rotterdam and Houston, but its current focus is on the 50th anniversary Oceanology International exhibition and conference (March 17-19th, ExCel London) at which the company will be exhibiting its Sibiu Pro and Sibiu Nano underwater drones on stand L611.
Staff will be on hand to explain the systems' functionality, demonstrating aspects such as the drones' lateral manoeuvrability which enables operators to pilot the ROVs around nets and cages to conduct thorough side-to-side inspections. Of particular interest to customers engaged in aquaculture projects, Nido Robotics is currently developing an EnviroSense system for integration with its underwater drones. This multi-parameter probe will be equipped with inputs for a comprehensive array of sensors so that operators can evaluate, in real time, any potential changes in water acidity or oxygen levels at different depths.