When Willie Sutton was asked, why do you rob banks, he famously quipped, “because that’s where the money is”.
Recently as someone in the water sector, my gaze turned to the oceans and if asked why, I might just as well give the same answer as Willie Sutton gave; it’s where the water is. It has salt in it, but it’s water nonetheless. As we move towards the ‘one water’ concept, water is water. Desalination, halophyte food crops, osmotic power, aquaculture, ocean energy and water quality monitoring are just a few examples of areas of overlap.
So with that in mind, I went on a voyage of discovery to the Oceanology conference in London. I wanted to see, what technologies are used in the oceans that could be applied in the land based water sector, and vice versa. Are there new technologies here that we have not encountered, who are the solutions providers, who are the customers and what does the value chain look like?
One catalyst for this was an increasing trend I have observed for collaboration between marine clusters and water clusters. In fact our namesake, but no relation, the BlueTech Alliance, based in San Diego, is probably the leading marine cluster globally, but they draw no defining line between water and marine and cover both areas.
I had no preconceptions and went with an open mind. I was very interested and explored the floor up and down to see what all the hype was about. It could be I would find a disparate, and highly fragmented area, with no common denominator, that would make the water sector look positively unified and monolithic.
So what did I learn?
- IoT, data and sensors are ubiquitous and ignore industry boundaries
At least half of what was at the Oceanology show, could be categorized as some form of remotely deployed sensor device designed to gather and transmit data related to what is in the water. It could be sonar, and there was quite a lot of that there. The clients for this type of data appear for the most part to fall into three groups; scientific oceanographic exploration groups, for profit companies exploring off-shore mineral reserves, oil and gas and renewable energy and naval and military bodies.
- The players are mostly different to the players in the water sector
Xylem had a booth as did Teledyne Scientific. Other than that, there were relatively few companies one might expect to see at an Aquatech, WEFTEC or Singapore Water Week. Whenever an industry aggregates and forms tradeshows, industry associations and clusters, there is something happening. There were special marine based investors there. I saw a few familiar faces, mainly from the world of sensors.
- If you are looking for sensor and data transmission technology the marine sector provides fertile fishing grounds
The ocean is a harsh environment for any equipment to operate. If it works in the marine sector, it will likely operate well in a land based operation. I expect we will see examples of companies offering similar technologies in both land based and marine based applications.
Will we continue to explore the marine area? Yes, from what I have seen there are enough areas of overlap in sensors, digital and IoT to warrant a watching brief. It is an adjacent space and it is still very much a nascent space, so one to watch.
I was also able to get some very cool photos of amphibious ocean-going drones which were met with more awe and excitement at home than my usual stock footage from water trade-shows. Although a shiny new sludge dryer or skid-mounted RO unit are indeed also things of considerable beauty in my view.