Sailing Into Swarm Systems: The Future of Berkeley Marine Robotics

Sailing Into Swarm Systems: The Future of Berkeley Marine Robotics
Sushil Tyagi, co-founder of Berkley Marine Robotics pictured with Swarm Robotics during ANTX Coastal Trident (Advanced Naval Technology Exercise) at FATHOMWERX Port Hueneme. (Image credit: SeaAhead)

Sushil Tyagi, co-founder of Berkley Marine Robotics, has always been passionate about the ocean. Tyagi came from humble beginnings in a village in India to studying ocean engineering at Indian Institute of Technology and UC Berkley in the 90s.

At the time, there were few advancements in ocean technology, and Tyagi chose to go back to school to focus on financial analytics, an emerging field.

Following his MBA at Wharton, Tyagi combined his love of the ocean and business to set sail toward the future of ocean technology. Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with the BlueSwell Cohort III Alumni to connect on his journey, the future of bluetech, and his company, Berkley Marine Robotics, which has recently featured as top US vendor of Swarm Robotics.

What inspired you to start Berkley Marine Robotics?

Tyagi: My dual background is multiple grad degrees in physics and engineering combined with a Wharton MBA in finance. At the time, I had been a pro-bono advisor to some faculty and doctoral students at my alma mater, the Ocean Engineering Department at UC Berkeley. We were assessing the commercialization potential of various R&D projects. This venture stemmed from the cutting-edge underwater swarm and laser communication technology that could have many dual-use applications in commerce and defense. More importantly, I could work on marine science problems again, where I had initially started my academic journey.

Can you tell us more about your team?

Tyagi: We have had multiple Ph.D.s working on various hardware and software parts over different times. Four doctoral and master's graduates have led the technological development in robotics and optics - and now we also have new team members and service partners adding in underwater vision, port operations, and security applications. We also have many high-level advisors - from CEOs in commercial ship services to Navy Admirals and Coast Guard Captains.

What is the biggest challenge your company has faced?

Tyagi: With any tech venture, there is a need to focus on an entry point where a market may have an urgent need. There are additional challenges for dual-use deep tech because far more R&D is needed before one can start serving any market. Furthermore, the landscape and pace continue to change - as we have observed that there may be a more urgent need/pathway in naval defense and maritime security for our tech - even though a much larger, broader market will eventually be in underwater data for commercial ships and ports.

How did you connect with BlueSwell?

Tyagi: SeaAhead reached out as our venture was working on the intersection of blue tech (underwater data for maritime commerce), climate impact (reducing ship emissions), and biodiversity protection (invasive species).

What did your connection with BlueSwell do for your company?

Tyagi: With the help of New England Aquarium advisors, the most important aspect of BlueSwell to us was to quantify the "impact" in known metrics and a format familiar to climate organizations. Also, for a California company, it was a good exposure to the East Coast innovation ecosystem.

What is your company currently pursuing?

Tyagi: We are pursuing "dual- use" pathways where our work on autonomous swarm systems and underwater wireless laser communication can also be utilized to secure ports and defend our Navy fleet. We just participated in ANTX Coastal Trident - i.e., Advanced Navy Technology Exercise.

For those who may not be familiar with it, please explain what an autonomous swarm system does:

Tyagi: An autonomous swarm of robotic devices implies they are moving together and holding a shape - just as birds and fish in nature do. However, this requires inter-communication, which may be easy enough among aerial drones or surface vessels. However, underwater, there is no GPS or Wi-Fi. Therefore, the underwater devices do not know where they are and cannot communicate their position with each other. That's where we must develop swarm algorithms, new sensors, and, most importantly, an underwater wireless laser communication system that allows for high bandwidth links to pass control and data streams underwater in real-time. Forming an underwater swarm of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles for subsea coastal intelligence - without tether cables - can be groundbreaking and disruptive.

Do you have any advice for the newest members of our BlueSwell program?

Tyagi: The Blue Economy is global and connected to commerce and security. Therefore, be aware of broader opportunities and applications so that you can redirect the tech and venture as it evolves.

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