While 2020 has been atypical, it has also been a busy year for the team at SeaRobotics. Here, in a short series of Q&As, we meet the engineering minds behind Florida’s premier designer and manufacturer of unmanned marine systems.
Meet Lou Dennis, VP of Programs, SeaRobotics:
How did you come to work with marine robotics?
After graduating from Florida Institute of Technology, I relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana, where I started out my career as a commercial diver. I love the ocean industry, so working with subsea systems and marine robotics designed to extend our reach and understanding of aquatic and harsh environments is a natural fit for me. I went on to work in the offshore energy sector before returning to Florida, initially to work for Perry Slingsby Systems before starting commercial roles with Lockheed Martin and MacArtney. I joined SeaRobotics in March 2018.
What does your role at SeaRobotics entail?
My role as VP of Programs allows me to work across a number of areas. I manage the program office which includes the product research and development program and covers a multitude of disciplines from concept validation through to prototype development, analysis, and adaptation. The engineering of control systems for our unmanned systems, alongside the modeling and simulation of new sensor suite and software applications, is a major part of what we do. Therefore, much of my time is spent providing technical and operational guidance to the electronic and mechanical engineers, while ensuring that project deliverables meet the anticipated goals.
But I am also responsible for key stakeholder management, both within the organization and beyond. Whether working for major defense contractors or private international entities, many of our projects are deemed confidential, and so demand discretion. The remainder of my remit centers around supporting new business development opportunities and enhancing existing client relationships.
What is it about marine robotics that you find so exciting?
This is a fast-paced, dynamic industry. The rate of technological advancement is overwhelming at times. I have worked across a whole spectrum of ROVs and subsea systems, but machine learning and the IoT (Internet of Things) is accelerating at a pace we’ve not seen before. The potential applications for autonomous systems, be them subsea assets or surface vehicles, for defense or commercial deployment, is very exciting. Automation will provide us with greater reach, flexibility, and efficiency. It is ultimately about control. Unmanned systems also remove humans from some pretty hostile marine environments, so the ability to increase safety is a welcome byproduct of ever smarter technology.
So, what has 2020 been like for SeaRobotics?
It has been a strange year, of course. The pandemic forced us, like so many, to pivot on some of our planned marketing activities. The cancellation and postponement of key conferences and trade shows—events critical for product demonstrations and business development—forced us to rethink and reprioritize our resources. For our ASV business, we have managed to adapt to a virtual platform for demonstrations and operator training. In fact, one of our Surveyor Class ASVs, the SR-Surveyor M1.8, is currently on assignment in Brazil. While there, we have a number of online, real-time demonstrations lined-up. We also recently completed our first full intercontinental operator training course. The more we adapt to the limitations associated with COVID-19, the more we realize the scope and potential of remotely operated assets. Just the other day, my team was able to control an unmanned surface vehicle with millimeter precision offshore Brazil from a laptop in Florida—that is extraordinary when you think about it.
What are the top priorities for SeaRobotics right now?
We have three main priorities at the moment:
- Promoting our ASV product lines for hydrographic survey and marine operations; We have a number of field-proven models in our Surveyor Class, including the SR-Surveyor M1.8 and the HYCAT (developed in partnership with Xylem), but we also have ASVs in our Utility and Endurance classes for different applications and environments. Even in the midst of COVID-19, we are running virtual demonstrations and/or training for potential/existing partners.
- Our SR-HullBUG, a specialized ROV for hull grooming designed to disrupt biofouling and optimize vessel efficiency, is also a big focus for us in 2020. We are likely to see a significant tightening of IMO regulations with regards to the transportation of invasive species and CO2 emissions in the near future. There have been a handful of product launches in recent years, unmanned systems that claim to combat some of these issues, but we believe that ours is the most comprehensive. The SR-HullBUG has proven effective in the cruise industry, so we are keen to share our findings.
- We also, believe it or not, provide very sophisticated control systems, along with brake and track switching mechanisms for theme parks. We are based in central Florida, where there is no shortage of demand for advanced engineering and maintenance from the entertainment and leisure sector. The world of marine robotics and rollercoasters are actually quite similar: both demand precision control and unshakeable safety standards.