Challenges and Opportunities for Robotics and Automation Applied to Aquaculture
Dr. Annette F. Govindarajan, Research Specialist in Biology, WHOI
Development of Autonomous Sampling Capability for Small Marine Organisms
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This workshop will explore opportunities for marine robotics and related technologies to improve cost effectiveness and eco-friendliness of aquaculture operations in the near term, and to enable dramatic innovations in aquaculture in the longer term.
Aquaculture, the fastest growing sector of global food production, has grown to a nearly $80B industry, supplying humans with over half their seafood. Aquaculture technologies have advanced significantly in recent decades, supporting growing scales of production and reducing production costs and risks. However, many types of aquaculture remain labor intensive, requiring humans to maintain the infrastructure, feed and care for the cultivated species, and carry out key activities like manually harvesting product. Social and environmental pressures and biological necessities are creating opportunities for aquatic farms to locate in more exposed waters further offshore, which increases costs, particularly those associated with the logistics of human maintenance and intervention activities. All of these factors make this an excellent time to examine the possibilities for various forms of automation to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of farming the oceans.
Advances in marine, terrestrial and airborne robotics are accelerating as markets grow, and investment in robotics technologies expand. Progress is enabled by innovations in low-power computation, advances in sonar, computer vision systems, batteries, and software for autonomy. In addition, recently developed and emerging ocean-based renewable energy technologies are poised to power these automation technologies as they are developed further improving the sustainability of offshore farms. ROVs and AUVs have already greatly improved our ability to observe and work in the underwater environment. For example, the offshore oil and gas community is completely dependent on Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) for installation, inspection, repair, maintenance, and decommissioning of subsea infrastructure. Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are increasingly a preferred platform for characterizing the undersea environment and for mapping and imaging the seafloor. While existing marine systems are costly, low cost robots are emerging: notably in the case of air vehicles, there has been almost exponential growth in the hobbyist drone market.
The output of the workshop will be a report summarizing opportunities for applying new marine robotics and technologies to aquaculture. A mix of presentations and discussions will review aquaculture practices, challenges, and economics, as well as review relevant technological advances, especially with respect to automation and robotics.