Open Ocean Robotics has created solar-powered ocean drones that are transforming the way we study, understand and utilize our oceans

The ocean is a bottomless pit of information that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of yet. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved and unexplored, and that 91 percent of ocean species have yet to be classified. Compare this to Mars, of which nearly 90 percent has been mapped out in high resolution.

As our world gets increasingly digital (and I’m not just talking about how our phones are now our social lives due to COVID-19), with innovations in autonomous technology, AI and robotics, there are new opportunities to discover the unknown in the ocean, and B.C.-based Open Ocean Robotics is capitalizing on this opportunity in a unique and eco-friendly way, as they work to create a “digital ocean”.

Open Ocean Robotics’ boats are equipped with sensors, cameras and communication devices that provide instant access to information from the ocean. Co-founder Colin Angus shares that the boats are “actually very similar to satellites—self-contained autonomous machines carrying out various tasks without human intervention. In addition, they are mobile and in remote inhospitable environments.”

According to Angus, the longevity of the boats depends on a number of factors, such as the sensor power draw, speed required and the amount of solar energy available. He shares that the boats can run up to six months in optimal conditions, with biofouling (seaweed and barnacle growth) as the limiting factor.

Here are some of the ways that Open Ocean Robotics’ innovative vessels can serve our planet...


1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions

The boats are completely eco-friendly, providing a cleantech solution to collecting ocean data by emitting no greenhouse gasses, noise pollution or risk of oil spills. They are able to replace offshore research vessels that are high fuel consumers and emit a massive amount of greenhouse gasses—in fact, they produce 1,000 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions every year (this is more than all of Canada). Removing one offshore research vessel from the ocean for a week is equal to removing 100 cars off the road for a year.


2. Crack down on illegal fishing

Of all the wild fish that are captured, 20 percent are done so illegally, earning poachers a massive $30 billion per year. Open Ocean Robotics’ ocean drones are able to patrol the ocean, survey protected areas and facilitate the capture of these illegal fishing vessels.


3. Detect and clean up oil spills

The ocean is littered with 700 million litres of oil every year due to spills and leaks from boats. The drones can monitor for oil in the water and help with the cleanup.


4. Provide data on climate change

The boats can measure changes in the ocean caused by climate change such as acidification, sea level increase and changes to temperature and currents, providing information so we can respond better and protect marine species, ecosystems and coastal communities.


5. Safeguard the Arctic

Melting Arctic sea ice has tripled traffic in the north over the last 25 years, but only one percent of the Canadian Arctic is charted to modern standards. The boats can map out the area to facilitate the navigation by ships and provide information about remote regions.


Open Ocean Robotics is in its early stages, recently completing trials of its boats in the Gulf Islands, but it has already received a ton of recognition and support. We can’t wait to see this innovative company continue to grow!