a device that is simlar to buoy with solar panels, floating in sydney harbour

OCIUS Technology’s unmanned surface vessel is powered by solar, wind and wave energy and has many uses in areas such as science and defence.

Company profile

Company: OCIUS Technology Ltd

Sector: Technology

Location: Sydney

Profile: OCIUS started out building ferries that run on renewable energy. It has since used its technology to build unmanned vessels. OCIUS now builds solar, wind and wave-powered robots that can collect data in the ocean for long periods of time.

Why R&D is needed

OCIUS has grown from a small start up to a successful and advanced business. The company was originally known as Solar Sailor, and produced solar and wind-powered ferries. At the time, oil prices were high and people were becoming environmentally conscious, leading to sales out of Sydney Harbour, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Although solar and wind-powered ferries were an economical and sustainable solution, the global financial crisis saw oil prices fall and oil-powered ferries become affordable again. This caused Solar Sailor to lose some of its market share. Fortunately, the USA enquired with Solar Sailor about building unmanned vessels 'that could go to sea indefinitely'.

In 2010, Solar Sailor invested significantly in R&D that would adapt its technologies to robots.

Then in 2014, Solar Sailor changed its name to OCIUS. The company is now located inside the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and partners with university scientists.

OCIUS's current research and development focuses on 4 main areas: hardware, software, autonomous 'fleet' capabilities, and prototype testing.

OCIUS started by focusing its R&D on the design of the robot. They built a few scale models and tested them in a wave tank at the University of Wollongong.

Through these tests, they could then choose the best design for the robot and develop the first full-sized prototype. They have since built a second successful prototype, improving on the first. This robotic hardware is protected by 6 different patents.

The robot was developed enough to be a minimum viable product (MVP). Since then, R&D has shifted to software.

The robots work as data-collecting sensors. They go out into the ocean and transmit data. R&D is focused on ensuring that the robots handle, process and send the data properly. R&D also looks at helping the robots avoid collisions and perform autonomous missions. The robots are built with artificial intelligence and machine learning. They are built to look after themselves so they don't need to be remote controlled.

OCIUS and UNSW aim to develop software so that multiple ocean robots can perform different tasks within a team. They would be able to communicate with each other and decide on a mission. If they were to lose external communication or GPS, they could continue the mission and report back later.

While many competitors around the world have remote-controlled robots, OCIUS's robots are unique and more autonomous. The company is aiming to create even more autonomous robots through investing in R&D.

In 2018, OCIUS's robots participated in an event called Autonomous Warrior 2018. They were sent out in the ocean off Jervis Bay in NSW to participate in war games with robots from USA, England, Canada and New Zealand. Audiences from around the world watched OCIUS showcase their robots.

How the Research and Development Tax Incentive helps

Between 1997 and 2000, OCIUS's funding came from the company founders, who were still committed to other jobs. At this time, the company struggled to raise the funds they needed for their R&D.

Since then, OCIUS has been part of the R&DTI program. They have been able to invest much more into their R&D because they know they will get back a significant percentage of their investment.

OCIUS CEO, Robert Dane, said that being associated with the program helped his business enter into contracts with new partners and customers.

The R&D rebate has accelerated our research and development efforts. For the persistent ocean robot Bluebottle design, it has allowed rapid scale model tank testing through to trials of working prototypes in the sea. For our autonomous command and control software, it has allowed us to employ 3 more people in-house, plus work closely with excellent researchers at the UNSW Computer Science Department.
— Robert Dane, CEO, OCIUS

OCIUS's research activities have had benefits for its customers. For example, defence companies would typically use staffed ships, costing $80,000 to $100,000 per day. Staffing ships also poses health and safety risks for the people on board. OCIUS's unmanned vessels would be cheaper and safer alternatives. They would also be able to stay out in the ocean indefinitely, collecting information that could then initiate a response from a staffed ship or aeroplane.

CEO Robert Dane has said that OCIUS's participation in the 'Autonomous Warrior 2018' event positioned Australia as a leading contender in the market for advanced technologies. The event drew interest from local businesses and communities in Jervis Bay, and drove the demand for high tech jobs in the autonomous robotics sector.

Having robots out in the ocean will have many benefits across the world. OCIUS's technology will provide a better understanding of the ocean, from many different perspectives. These include defence, oil and gas, oceanography, and meteorology.

The knowledge gained through OCIUS's R&D will also help improve environmental monitoring and safety in ocean-based industries. It will also help with climate change research, the predicting of hurricanes, and detecting leaks in oil rigs.

R&DTI Impact Facts

  • Supports the development of unmanned surface vessels which are autonomous.
  • Helps the business hire new staff.
  • Helps create partnerships with prominent bodies such as UNSW's Computer Science Department.
  • Helps more focused R&D.
  • Allows quick progress between design, testing in the real world and redesign.
  • Provides a solution which prevents dull and dangerous work for labourers.
  • Helps validate weather models and climate change signs.
  • Helps detect leaks in oil rigs.
  • Helps the defence of Australia.

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