By  Jemima Burke Journalism @nuigalway@LaunchPadNUIG. Interview with Adrian Boyle from Cathx Ocean, delivering advanced imaging solutions including lighting, lasers, cameras, machine vision and data management tools for deep sea vehicles and divers.

Cathx Ocean are one of Ireland’s most successful and well-known marine technology companies. They are developing marine technology products and services in Ireland that are being sold into some of the leading subsea services, supply and manufacturing companies internationally. They consist of an experienced and innovative team that is readily positioning itself as an international leader in the development of subsea machine vision cameras and lasers systems.

Can you summarise briefly what service(s) Cathx Ocean provides?

Yes. We’ve developed underwater high-resolution imaging and laser measurement systems that operate from remotely operated and autonomous underwater vehicles. We acquire high-resolution images and data at very high speed, typically ten times faster than would have been traditionally possible. The ships that do this work typically cost anywhere between €60,000 and €300,000 per day.

Cathx Ocean is centred on acquiring and processing that data to give real time information to those who are paying for the ship time. They include asset owners, oil and gas owners, renewable energy, windfarm-type, turbine owners. As well as oceanographic, off-shore salvage and other deep-water operators. We build hardware to acquire the data and also software to process and manage that data as well as the data management systems to support the growth of our system deployment worldwide.

How does Cathx Ocean manage and store the data?

We have a technology which we call machine vision technology. As the data is acquired it essentially gets processed using machine or robotic vision technology. We search for certain objects within the images and within the laser data. And then when we find an object in an image – this can be done in real time using very advanced electronic systems – we tag that. Instead of storing all of the data in all of the images we pull out those objects or events. The images alone reduce the size of the data from video down to about 10% of what would be typically a video, but a much higher resolution. And then the event detection reduces that by another 10%. We end up with 1% of the volume of data in events assuming that every image has an event. But typically it’s one tenth of that, so ultimately we reduce the volume of data by a factor of a thousand – which means it can be carried around on a laptop!
We store all of the other data in a very robust storage system. And we link it to the metadata – what we’ve extracted. That’s essentially how we do the data management and the data analytics.

In terms of markets, what are Cathx Ocean targeting?

Our focus is reducing ship time. So when we started out we looked at all of the different markets: oil and gas, renewables, salvage, defence, security and so on. Oil and gas has the single biggest utilisation of ROVs in the entire subsea industry. So we’ve focused on that.
What has happened in the last two years is that oil and gas prices have dropped down to below 50 dollars. They were at 120. So the traditional contracts that were done by day rate are now changed to price work. This means that the contractors doing work have to deliver efficiency.
So we have very much focused on our hardware – allowing the ships to move up to ten times faster than traditionally (even if they move four times faster, which is the case for most of the ROVs out there) by enabling them to acquire images faster. Or essentially reducing the cost of the operation to 30% of what it was.

How will you be utilising the Smartbay Subsea Observatory (off Galway Coast)?

Well, one of the things we’ve done to remove the ship cost is build autonomous sensors. So instead of having a vehicle move around that requires a ship we leave the imaging system in the sea and have it perform analysis. Any event that causes a change – our systems can detect it. It could be something moving that’s not meant to move, it could be a leak, it could be a heat source or it could be a shark attacking something, which is unlikely!

We’re putting one of these systems into Smartbay in September. Our objective is to show that it can stay there for three years and track and measure all of the changes. We’re even thinking of putting things in that will rust and decay, and monitoring that using time lapse, so that we can replay it and demonstrate that instead of having to send a ship out into some of the large offshore installations, you can actually leave systems there forever.

If you can imagine: hundreds of cameras relaying video, nobody’s going to watch the video – there’s too much data. Whereas if you have smart intelligent cameras doing the processing it means that you can actually have small amounts of data, in the way I’ve talked about, transferred to a point where somebody can actually make decisions and move quickly.
Our ambition with Smartbay is to put a system in so that over the next two years we’ll be able to see how it’s doing and upgrade it remotely through the cable that’s going out to the Observatory. And, essentially, develop that product over the next 12 to 18 months.

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