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Wave power meets space technology – for smarter, zero carbon ocean monitoring

13 February 2018


Advances in ocean monitoring are providing more insights about our seas and environment than ever before, from marine life, to sea temperatures, pollution and weather. However data collection can be expensive - fuel, maintenance and manpower for research ships are costly, and sea conditions limit areas in which data can be gathered.

Cue an exciting new generation of ocean monitoring – a revolutionary ‘unmanned surface vessel’ (USV), which can collect data for longer periods of time, at a fraction of the cost, and with wide ranging scientific and industrial applications - from monitoring marine life to military surveillance, piracy control, fisheries protection and the offshore gas, oil and renewables industries, to name a few possibilities.

Pioneering marine technology start-up, AutoNaut Ltd, has developed the AutoNaut USV propelled entirely by the waves, with zero carbon emissions. It is one of the world’s first small commercial applications of wave propulsion technology and can operate at sea for months at a time, covering hundreds of miles in a week in areas and operations too hazardous for humans. It is so quiet it can measure the whistles and clicks of dolphins over large areas. Remotely controlled from anywhere in the world via satellite, the AutoNaut houses cutting edge, solar powered sensors that capture raw research data, which are analysed, processed and then sent back to the operator on land, anywhere in the world, via a satellite communications network.

The Autonaut team have just completed a two-year business incubation programme at the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre UK, at Harwell (ESA BIC UK), which is managed by STFC. Here they used highly specialised satellite navigation and communication systems to refine their navigation system and control capabilities, and deliver near real-time data collected from the USV sensors. Backed by the ESA BIC UK business support package, which includes £41.5k grant funding and dedicated business support, Autonaut has already taken part in a number of missions including with NATO, the Royal Navy, the UK Met Office and offshore engineering industries.


David Maclean, Director at AutoNaut said: “AutoNaut is revolutionary and will help us to understand our environment better at a fraction of the cost of manned technologies. Our society and economy rely on accurate data sourced from our oceans on a consistent and non-interfering basis, and having access to the business support, technology and expertise through STFC and ESA has made a massive difference to us in our journey towards commercialising our product.”

Sue O’Hare, Operations Manager at the ESA BIC Harwell said: “AutoNaut is an inspirational example of how space and technology can be applied to address our research and industrial challenges. But turning a game-changing idea like this into a viable commercial reality is a massive challenge in itself. I’m thrilled that the ESA BIC Harwell has provided AutoNaut with the right environment and support to do this, and I wish them every success as they take their business to the next level.”

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000