The Rise of the Kraken

For centuries, ocean exploration was besieged by the legend of the Kraken, a merciless creature from the deep with an insatiable appetite for intrepid North Atlantic seafarers. In both lore and literature, the fabled sea monster would rise from the abyss to claim its bounty before retreating to its lair, a murky habitat found only at unfathomable depths.

Unfathomable, that is, until relatively recently. Advances in ocean technology have revolutionized the way we explore underwater environments, and our mission at Kraken Robotics is to accelerate this progress by engineering a fully integrated suite of state-of-the-art technologies designed to analyze the seafloor. While we draw the line at terrorizing vessels, ever since our inception in 2012 we have been loyal to the disruptive instincts of our tentacled namesake by internalizing an “Innovate or Die” attitude to bringing innovation to market.

Kraken Robotics was created as an offshoot of Marport Deep Sea Technologies Inc. and we initially focused on developing our best-in-class Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS)—a pioneer sonar that renders superior ultra-high-resolution imagery to conventional sonars. Other advanced sensors and components soon followed, including pressure tolerant batteries and rim driven thrusters, before we opened our Unmanned Maritime Vehicles Facility in Nova Scotia, in 2016, to concentrate our efforts on producing fully integrated systems, software, and services for the global Unmanned Maritime Systems market. Today, working with our partners in the oil and gas, fishing, military, defense and ocean science sectors, Kraken is a recognized leader in advanced marine robotics and A.I., having launched a number of highly successful commercial platforms, including our KATFISH® (high speed towed SAS), THUNDERFISH® (untethered AUV), TENTACLE® (winch), ALARS (autonomous L&R) and SeaVision® (3D laser scanner).

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE: OCEANVISION

As far the ocean community has come in embracing breakthrough technologies, a somewhat lackluster approach to industry collaboration is undeniable. At times, this has hindered the rate of progress and application of innovation, especially where marine robotics is concerned. In short, technology developers have generally preferred to work in guarded silos to devise custom platforms for very specific means or tasks.

In 2018, we saw this tendency as an opportunity to spearhead a more orchestrated approach to the marine survey industry by extending our service portfolio to include two cross-sectoral offerings; Robotics as a Service (RaaS) and Data as a Service (DaaS). This strategic move coincided with another pivotal market development, the announcement of the Canadian government’s Ocean Supercluster initiative, a private sector-led partnership created to support local companies and resources to drive sustainable technology and innovation across the ocean industries.

In November 2018, a team from Kraken attended the Ocean Supercluster’s kick-off event and pitched our idea to establish a long-term commercial offering that provides cross-sector industries with cost-effective data acquisition and analytics as a turnkey service. This would ultimately afford commercial entities, government agencies, and academic researchers alike access to pertinent data and information that is usually publicly unavailable or prohibitively expensive to collect in the field. This concept evolved into OceanVision™, a cooperative scheme designed to foster industry collaboration, stimulate local supply chain opportunities, and nurture a fertile entrepreneurial ecosystem among Canadian stakeholders.

OceanVision, which was the first proposal to be approved under the Ocean Supercluster program (in July 2019), is a three-year ~$20 million project that has helped enable the rapid scaling of the RaaS and DaaS models under the Kraken brand. The ongoing objective of OceanVision™ is straightforward: to leverage new and existing Kraken technologies to provide our partners—both from the private and public sectors—with significantly higher-quality data, more quickly and at a substantially lower cost when compared to traditional technologies.

It’s not simply about gathering endless swathes of data for data’s sake; this is about optimizing the relevance and usefulness of subsea data to inform ever smarter operational decisions. The caliber and reliability of this information allows Kraken to assist fishing companies to fish smarter (not harder), oil and gas operators to run maintenance and inspection surveys with never-before-seen forensics, and defense contractors to pinpoint UXO exposure. This culture of collaboration is what underpins the OceanVision program and allows stakeholders to learn and grow together.

In just 18 months we have welcomed a formidable group of entities to the OceanVision program, including: Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador (PRNL) Members, Ocean Choice International, Nunavut Fisheries Association and Emera. In addition, we are working with several academic and research collaborators from the Marine Institute in Newfoundland, Memorial University, Dalhousie University and the National Research Council of Canada. True to our roots, we are also actively partnering with numerous startups, tying in specialisms such as software and data management companies, upcoming sensor manufacturers, and other emerging names in the blue economy.

The Ocean Supercluster’s support has enabled us to roll what we originally considered a seven-to-eight-year project into a tight 36-month program, a timeline that has resulted in the creation of 50 new jobs at Kraken Robotics.

PROGRESS IN THE FIELD

To date, our team has completed three OceanVision data collection campaigns. Central to operations has been the successful deployment of our SeaScout System, which incorporates our intelligent KATFISH towed SAS system, Autonomous Launch and Recovery System (ALARS) and our TENTACLE Winch. Each outing gives us an opportunity to build upon lessons learned in previous campaigns and showcase seabed imagery in and around Atlantic Canada at unprecedented resolutions.

Further, it allows us to demonstrate updated versions of our cutting-edge technologies in the most challenging of environments. Winter in the North Atlantic Ocean typically presents some of the harshest marine conditions on the planet, and our latest campaign, from September 21 to October 18, 2020, was no exception. Despite the threat of a major hurricane, we were able to integrate and operate Kraken’s KATFISH system onboard Atlantic Towing Limited’s Atlantic Kingfisher offshore supply vessel. This highlights the flexibility and adaptability of our systems; we have now deployed our KATFISH from eight different vessel types, both manned and unmanned, ranging from 39 feet to 262 feet in length.

OceanVision stakeholders understand that to spark innovation you must disrupt and challenge long-established ways of doing things. We are not trying to displace other marine survey companies, but rather seek to help our partners rethink the efficiency of their operations and the ongoing usefulness of the data collected. Many surveys tend to be ad hoc in nature and project specific, often covering previously explored areas. We recognize that the value of subsea data goes beyond any one job, industry, or sector, and feel uniquely positioned as a vertically integrated one-stop-shop for RaaS and DaaS to promote a progressive business model for subsea survey and inspection.

PICTURE-PERFECT PINGS

The image resolution possible with our kit speaks for itself. We find that most offshore operators have come to expect a standard 15 – 20 cm resolution associated with a hull mounted multibeam or side scan sonar. AquaPix® MINSAS (Miniature Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Sonar) sensors, mounted to our KATFISH, offer an industry-leading 1.9 x 2.1 cm constant Ultra HD resolution across the entire swath out to ranges of 200 meters per side, along with simultaneously collecting co-registered 6 cm x 6 cm bathymetry. We are confident that Kraken’s SAS technology, as well as offering the industry’s best Area Coverage Rates (ACR), delivers the highest resolution seabed pixel at the lowest cost in the industry.

In practical terms, the data allows us to create precise 3D models of seafloor environments and assets, from which operators can ascertain critical operational information (e.g., determine hard-to-distinguish flowline shifting). Many of our offshore energy customers find it hard to believe how this degree of visual detail is produced by sound, millions of acoustic pings stitched together to render the picture-perfect clarity—a resolution that enables users to count individual chains links on mooring lines!

THE FUTURE

Despite the challenges of 2020, we adapted operations to keep OceanVision on track, and 2021 is set to be a game-changing year, with two further OceanVision campaigns slated for May and September. The R&D team are busy refining a number of key hardware enhancements, and we look forward to running future sea trials using our RV Ocean Seeker, equipped with our upgraded SeaScout System and stationed at our Dartmouth office at the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), in Nova Scotia. Having the RV Ocean Seeker on hand allows our onsite engineers to constantly test and modify the SeaScout’s functionality as the project progresses.

We are also in the process of building a new 6,000-meter depth rated AUV to augment our fleet. The ThunderFish XL AUV®—supported in part by advisory services and research and development funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) and tested at the National Research Council of Canada Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre —is being designed to function as a permanent subsea resident inspection and survey vehicle, supported by a seafloor charging/docking station. Engineered to eclipse the payload capacity, endurance, and versatility of other “long endurance” vehicles on the market today, the ThunderFish XL AUV will support an array of sensors and custom payload modules, including Kraken’s AquaPix® SAS, SeaVision® 3D laser profiler, SeaThrust™ rim-driven thrusters and SeaPower™ pressure tolerant batteries. All of these will be integrated with advanced onboard A.I. algorithms and available for deployment 24/7/365. The AUV will be programable from anywhere—rig, vessel or shore—and capable of transmitting and processing data in real time. We are seeing increasing interest from the Inspection, Repair, and Maintenance (IRM) segments for offshore energy (oil & gas and wind). In-water testing should begin later this year, which will include demonstrations as part of the OceanVision project, with a view to being commercially available by Q4 2022.

Suffice to say, if there is a dormant Kraken in waiting down there, our ThunderFish XL AUV will find it.

This story was originally featured in ON&T Magazine’s February 2021 issue. Click here to read more.

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