A Melbourne startup is building a fleet of autonomous submarines to create a Google Street View for the ocean floor

(Photo: Supplied)
  • Melbourne startup UAM Tec has unveiled its first product, an underwater submarine which uses artificial intelligence and an array of sensors and cameras to map the ocean floor.
  • The company wants to create the underwater version of Google Maps Street View – which it calls “WaterView”
    – allowing anyone to poke around on the seafloor.
  • The UAM’s first mission will be to the ports and bays around Melbourne.

You’ve probably heard the old adage, which says we know more about outer space and the universe than we do the bottom of the ocean. Whether or not that platitude is actually true, it’s certainly the case that only a small percentage of the ocean floor has been properly mapped and photographed.

An Aussie startup is looking to do something about that. At CEBIT 2019, Melbourne-based UAM Tec unveiled their first product: an autonomous submarine which glides around underwater using camera imagery, sonar, motion tracking and artificial intelligence and maps the sea floor. Basically, it’s an underwater drone.

The UAM v4 (Photo: Supplied)

And the product itself it nothing to sniff at. According to UAM Tec, the subs can travel 100km at a depth of 200m, taking 360 degree imagery with an array of 22 cameras, with a battery life of 40 hours. That depth restriction is artificially imposed for safety – the company told Business Insider Australia they can and eventually will go at least a kilometre underwater.

UAM Tec – which stands for Underwater Autonomous Mapping Technology – says its sub is the “first fully autonomous and visual-based mapping submarine to exist in the world”. Founders Benjamin Fleming and Shawn Taylor, who have backgrounds in software and systems development, say that their sub mapping tech has the potential to change our understanding of the world’s oceans.

“We want to be able to educate the next generation about everything that exists in our world. The fact that we know more about space than we do about our own oceans is unacceptable with today’s technology,” the founders said in a statement to Business Insider Australia.

“Not only will we be able to discover new species of marine life and track climate change, but in time we will also be able to optimise search and rescue operations, locate wreckages and black boxes, and much more.”

This all sounds like a very lofty scientific goal, but there’s a consumer angle too: the Google Maps Street View of the sea. The company’s “WaterView” technology uses imagery from the drones to allow you to click aimlessly around the ocean floor with the same enthusiasm as you do expensive neighbourhoods on Street View. Some preliminary images are available on the Sub Mapping website, where you can sign up to receive more info as it becomes available.

With that comes the potential to turn anyone into a scientist. “If you’re an amateur astronomer, you can discover a new star or planet through your telescope and have it named after you,” Fleming told Business Insider Australia.

“Well, what if you could discover a new marine organism using Water View, and have that named after you? That’s what we want to do with this.”

The founders say the current iteration of the sub is the fourth in 5 years, and they’re working on a new model already, which they hope will be able to go deeper underwater for longer. Future models, they say, will also come packed with a larger array of sensors in order to capture more data, faster.

(Photo: Supplied)

So what are the next steps from here? Fleming and Taylor told Business Insider Australia they’re working to prove the capability of their product with a mission to map the bodies of water around Melbourne’s ports and bays. By 2021, they say, they want UAM Tec to be a leading provider of oceanic imagery with partnerships across a number of industries.

“Ultimately, we will be able to look at ways to live in better harmony with our planet,” Fleming said.

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