A week and a half ago I was invited to attend a forum on the future of ocean and maritime technology. The forum, hosted by Autodesk, took place at Pier 9 in San Francisco as part of a new R&D effort at Autodesk focused on maritime.
Going in I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The background and experience of those involved was as diverse as possible (intentionally so) in a group that still shared some common interest. By way of example here are just a few of those involved:
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)
- Erika Bergman – a 2013 National Geographic Young Explorer and a submarine pilot.
- Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding
- Bluefin Robotics
- Bob Hollis – an inductee to the International SCUBA diving hall of fame and founder of Oceanic
- The BentProp Project
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)
One of the common technologies or themes that cropped up in a variety ways was reality capture. Some truly practical and inspiring uses of photogrammetry and other technologies were in evidence. The two most impressive examples – the BentProp project and the Antikythera Shipwreck – bridge the gap between old and truly ancient artifacts and modern technology.
Of course, little of the above translates directly to the shipbuilding and offshore construction industries, does it? Well, our CTO recently covered some of the ways current SSI and Autodesk technology in the area of reality capture could be leveraged during the design and construction of ships and offshore structures. Another example, found at the convergence point of these various technologies, are the AUV’s that Bluefin Robotics has delivered to the US Navy to automate the often human labor intensive task (even with the increased use of ROV’s) of hull inspection.
However, the application of these technologies was not at all the point of the forum. The idea was to mix equal parts of many different industries, viewpoints and experience, and shake well. The cocktail that ends up in the glass should be something that wouldn’t normally come together on its own.
How well did it work?
Overall I found it to be an interesting experience; one that is about finding new questions rather than finding answers. However despite the diversity of the participants I believe that a few areas were underrepresented. Their inclusion perhaps could have furthered the goals of the forum (added more ingredients to the cocktail shaker). In one of my breakout groups another attendee (apologies as I don’t remember who it was) said something to the effect of: “organizations fall into one of two groups: those that see the ocean as an opportunity (explorers, researchers etc…) and those that see the ocean as a barrier (shipping, fisheries, oil & gas)”. The viewpoint of those industries that work in, or on, the ocean environment would add to the conversation around technology, and early engagement is perhaps the best way to foster continual engagement. To be fair this wasn’t due to any lack of foresight on Autodesk’s part; Individuals from the US Navy, US Coast Guard, NOAA and Shell were also invited but were last minute cancellations due to both natural (weather) and political climate.
What did we learn?
I think the primary takeaways for me, and neither of these were really a surprise were:
- Everyone has the same challenges. Three of the primary obstacles or challenges that came out of our workshops were:
- Data collection, analysis, visualization and dissemination
- Collaboration between individuals, teams and organizations
- Public perception/awareness
- Technology, or lack thereof, is not a major contributing factor in the formation of these obstacles. Technology may be able to help, and even facilitate change, but it will not do so absent the desire, willingness and engagement of the people and organizations involved.
In summary, this is sort of think session is an excellent opportunity to step outside your normal persona and engage with a group of bright, talented people. I’m still chewing on several discussions to see what, if anything, can be applied to what we do, but you never know from where inspiration will strike.