oXeanseeker: Seeing the ocean through new eyes

Engineering | innovation | Sustainability and climate protection | trends of technology | Even today, the depths of the world's oceans are still largely unknown territory. With the autonomous underwater vehicle "oXeanseeker", thyssenkrupp's start-up "oXeanpedia" now plans to shed light on the darkness – to the delight of fishermen, researchers and the maritime environment.

Our earth seems to have been completely discovered: Humans have reached the top of Mount Everest almost 7,000 times so far. The ice deserts of Antarctica attract about 30-40,000 tourists annually. And even on Tristan da Cunha, the most remote island in the world, is home to 270 people – 2,800 kilometers from the nearest mainland. However, 70% of our oceans are still unexplored and make up two thirds of the earth’s surface. With a groundbreaking idea, an innovative team within the thyssenkrupp network wants to make the dark spots of the deep sea visible. Their goal is to develop “oXeanpedia”, the world’s largest real-time underwater database – inspired by the digital map services of the internet. For this highly ambitious mission, the company developed the oXeanseeker, an underwater vehicle that can explore underwater conditions completely autonomously. The idea for the project originated from the in-house start-up accelerator tkGarage.

In the future, the oXeanseeker enables deep insights into the underwater world. This way, fishermen and marine researchers will soon know not only that there is something under your boat, but also what exactly it is.
In the future, the oXeanseeker enables deep insights into the underwater world. This way, fishermen and marine researchers will soon know not only that there is something under your boat, but also what exactly it is.

The oXeanseeker says “ahoy by-catch”

In addition to various and easily interchangeable sensors for different applications, the meter long and 10 kilograms light oXeanseeker is equipped with up to three high-resolution cameras. The oXeanseeker opens up the extremely interesting, and perhaps surprising market of deep-sea fishing – an industry in which there is particular pressure to work both sustainably and cost-effectively. “Despite their sonars and their experience, fish skippers still have to accept great uncertainties today because they cannot always clearly determine the exact composition of the shoal of fish among them beforehand,” says product manager Max Abildgaard, who is also the creative mind behind the idea. “As a result, there are is still an unbelievable amount of by-catch today.” By-catch, these are fish and other marine animals that end up in the trawl but are not the fisherman’s actual target.

A showcase illustrates what's inside the underwater vehicle: The pressure-resistant housing of the oXeanseeker conceals various electronic components such as a processor, a graphics unit, modules for Wi-Fi and GPS as well as a battery for underwater power supply. Depending on the application, the freely flooded, exchangeable bow of the mini-submarine carries various sensors such as an altimeter, a multi-beam sonar as well as high-resolution cameras with associated lighting system.
A showcase illustrates what's inside the underwater vehicle: The pressure-resistant housing of the oXeanseeker conceals various electronic components such as a processor, a graphics unit, modules for Wi-Fi and GPS as well as a battery for underwater power supply. Depending on the application, the freely flooded, exchangeable bow of the mini-submarine carries various sensors such as an altimeter, a multi-beam sonar as well as high-resolution cameras with associated lighting system.

This is where the oXeanseeker comes in: With its extremely sharp eyes and the specially developed recognition software, the underwater vehicle can recognize the different species in the fish shoals fully automatically and determine the size and number of fishes in a swarm. In this way, it can precisely determine the respective composition of a shoal of fish. This solves two of the most urgent problems of deep-sea fishing – too small target fish and the by-catch, which not only damages the environment and the animals themselves, but also the skippers and owners. Because: The by-catch must also be brought ashore, processed and sold off cheaply. In addition, there is a huge financial loss because the by-catch is deducted from the fishing quota. “The oXeanseeker gives the fishermen eyes in the water,” explains Abildgaard. “And thus, the basis for decisions, which are not based on assumptions but clear facts.”

A simple idea, an effective application: The oXeanseeker is based on inexpensive systems which are able to search the dark, invisible sea independently for the most part. Therefore the submarine can find answers to important questions of deep-sea fishermen.
A simple idea, an effective application: The oXeanseeker is based on inexpensive systems which are able to search the dark, invisible sea independently for the most part. Therefore the submarine can find answers to important questions of deep-sea fishermen.

Intuitive use, revolutionary result

Once the oXeanseeker is on board of a fish trawler, its application is as foolproof. After the crew has spotted a swarm on the ship’s dedicated multi-beam sonar, they simply throw the vehicle into the water. It then automatically dives into the potential catch and records video sequences. After the oXeanseeker has analyzed the swarm in detail, it emerges again and sends all necessary data about the composition of the swarm and the potential by-catch rate directly to the ship’s bridge. The crew can then decide whether a catch makes economic sense.

This is the oXeanseeker's view under the sea surface: Thanks to its high-tech equipment, the underwater vehicle automatically recognizes fish species based on their size, shape and individual characteristics – in this case, a swarm of herrings is passing by.
This is the oXeanseeker's view under the sea surface: Thanks to its high-tech equipment, the underwater vehicle automatically recognizes fish species based on their size, shape and individual characteristics – in this case, a swarm of herrings is passing by.

Currently, the oXeanseeker distinguishes the three most important European fish species. In the course of the next year, up to ten fish species will be able to be distinguished. In principle, however, the self-learning underwater vehicle is able to identify many more. “The oXeanseeker uses an artificial neural network, comparable to facial recognition. This software never stops learning, so you can teach it almost everything with a little patience,” says project manager Marc Schiemann. “This gives the crew a completely self-sufficient basis for making decisions that will enormously improve their fishing quality and make fishing more sustainable. In this form, such an effective form to reduce unwanted by-catch is nowhere else available.”

The oXeanseeker also enriches marine research

“In order to work more economically, sustainably and be environmentally-friendly, deep-sea fishing and marine research depend on comprehensive underwater ocean data,” explains Schiemann. “Our modular oXeanseeker is so flexible that it can be easily and individually adapted for different applications.” The mini submarine is able to dive independently for several hours and reach depths of up to 100 meters. Starting in early 2019, an even more advanced version of the vehicle will be able to dive to depths of up to 200 meters.

Thanks to its comprehensive analysis capabilities, the oXeanseeker – just like thyssenkrupp’s high-tech vehicle “Modifiable Underwater Mothership” or the highly accurate autonomous underwater vehicle “SeaCat” – is also worth its weight in gold for marine researchers and biologists: It collects data on fish population, pressure, water temperature, salt content and water quality in a simple way, evaluates them and presents them to the scientist in almost real time, tailored to individual research needs.

“With the oXeanseeker as a tool, we are laying the foundation for our long-term goal that we want to achieve with oXeanpedia: the ‘Internet of underwater Things’,” summarizes the project manager. “It gives customers and research institutions a precise overview of the current situation of our oceans. The data obtained in this way will also make their forecasts more accurate. By regularly recording the parameters, we deliver more than just underwater data – we deliver a tool to understand our seas better, faster and more efficiently.”

This is how innovation begins: At the Demo Day of tkGarage 2017, the first prototype of the oXeanseeker was equipped with a commercially available GoPro camera and lamps fixed with cable ties. Now, the first market-ready version is in the final stages.
This is how innovation begins: At the Demo Day of tkGarage 2017, the first prototype of the oXeanseeker was equipped with a commercially available GoPro camera and lamps fixed with cable ties. Now, the first market-ready version is in the final stages.

Great interest in the oXeanseeker, market launch imminent

The interest of potential customers in the oXeanseeker is high. The oXeanpedia team has already presented its product at international trade fairs and visited various customers throughout Europe. “Their feedback has always been positive, there are many interested parties,” said Schiemann. “This includes the European Commission, which is considering financial support for the project.” The team defined the future planning in cooperation with the investors well. The high pace – less than 18 months have passed from the initial idea to market maturity – is to be maintained. The team has already received specific customer inquiries and have written first offers. The sale of the first oXeanseeker is planned to take place in the next months.

In addition, initial trials are underway to make the oXeanseeker fit for other user groups such as coastal seabed surveying, port operators, coastal protection or search-and-rescue missions. Just a few of the many hidden sea treasures that are to be recovered by the oXeanpedia team.

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