Autonomous Subs Are Collecting Data For 'Google Earth of the Oceans'

More than 80 percent of our oceans remain unmapped and unexplored.
Chris Young

Terradepth, a startup based in Austin, Texas, will soon send its autonomous submarine, Abraham, out to explore the oceans — only 20 percent of which have been mapped — in a bid to democratize knowledge of the world's oceans, a report from Forbes explains.

The company, which was founded by two ex-Navy SEALs, aims to build an autonomous submarine that could operate out at sea for 60 days straight, all the while adding to our knowledge of the deep ocean.

The two founders set out to build a company that is equally disruptive as SpaceX when it comes to ocean exploration — the idea came to them at a time of great innovation in space exploration robotics.

Terradepth's current prototype uses "diesel light," though, it plans to use a hydrogen fuel cell on the eventual production model.

Terradepth's prototype submarine has already completed its phase one trials in Lake Travis in Texas, with results published in March this year. Next, it will set out to the Gulf of Mexico to be tested out at sea in the coming months.

In a press release, the company explained that the initial phase one tests "conclusively demonstrated that the company’s unmanned submersible could collect underwater data, process the data, understand features of import, and automatically retask itself with no human intervention."

Terradepth wants to enable better environmental decision-making

The Texas firm's main pitch is that it will make it substantially easier to map the world's oceans by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze the data it collects. "We've put that historically human analysis and object recognition on the robot itself," Judson Kauffman, co-founder, and co-CEO of Terradepth told Forbes.

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The company aims to eventually make basic data collected by its submarines available to everyone using a cloud-based ocean data management system that Kauffman compared to "a Google Earth of the oceans" in an interview with Fast Company.

The founders of the company say they believe that by increasing our knowledge and awareness of the oceans via projects like theirs, we will ultimately make better decisions about protecting the environment.

Mapping the ocean is no small feat of course — Terradepth's other co-founder and co-CEO Joe Wolfel says it will likely take a decade and billions of dollars of investment in order to make it happen. The company has currently raised $8 million in funding and is looking for more partners with which to collaborate.

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