Terradepth Autonomous Sub Dives Into Mapping World’s Oceans, Making Data Freely Available

Dear humans: Abraham doesn’t need your help with this task. Abraham is the name of an autonomous submarine produced by Terradepth, a startup in Austin, Texas. The venture is headed by two former Navy SEALs who plan to have the 9-meter-long sub back in the water in a few months, working in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We want to build a digital twin of the Earth’s ocean,” says Judson Kauffman, co-founder and co-CEO of Terradepth along with Joe Wolfel.

Only a fraction of world’s oceans have been mapped, with more than 80% left to be explored, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wolfel says Abraham will be entering it second phase in the Gulf of Mexico after successfully completing phase one trials in Lake Travis in Travis County, Texas.

The initial test results “conclusively demonstrated that the company’s unmanned submersible could collect underwater data, process the data, understand features of import, and automatically retask itself with no human intervention,” the company said in a news release.

As Wolfel explains: The world has robots, but it needs a smarter, underwater autonomous robot that can stay out for a long time. Terradepth hopes Abraham will work for two weeks in the gulf and that a full production model down the road will be able to operate for 60 days straight.

The prototype runs on “diesel light.” A hydrogen fuel cell is planned for the production model.

Kauffman says Terradepth sees itself as a “disruptor in marine data collection and use,” with plans to do for oceans what SpaceX has done for space.

A major limitation on ocean exploration has been the cost of gathering the data, then taking hours to sift through it and identify items like shipwrecks or an airplane, for instance. “We’ve put that historically human analysis and object recognition on the robot itself,” Kauffman says.

Terradepth’s success in its first trial is a step toward “democratizing ocean data,” the company says.

The CEOs say data gathered on government contracts would obviously be publicly available. But they also plan to negotiate private contracts to make basic data available to everyone, even if it’s at a lower resolution.

Why is that so important? “If we can start to get this information out to people and democratize it, over time we’ll be able to make better decisions as a species,” Kauffman says.

How long will it take to create that “digital twin” and how much will it cost? Probably a decade and billions of dollars, Wolfel says.

Terradepth has raised $8 million in funding, led by storage hardware company Seagate Technology, and hopes to collaborate with additional partners on a larger ocean mapping project.

The two CEOs also hope to see more government funding dedicated to ocean data gathering. It’s no secret that the U.S. government spends substantially more on space exploration.

“There needs, in our opinion, a higher level of attention paid to this ocean right in front of us,” Wolfel says.

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