Images of climate innovation

Robots delivering sustainable ocean monitoring

Powered by waves and sunlight, and controlled by computers, a fleet of robot submarines and driverless boats is gathering important information on the marine environment and the impacts of climate change. As part of ‘Smart Sound Plymouth’ the futuristic vessels are part of a network which includes ‘data buoys’ filled with scientific instruments, enabling scientists and policymakers to get a better understanding of the changing ocean than ever before.

This image shows one of the data buoys and the fleet of ocean robots that support them

Oceans play an essential role in controlling the climate, and with more and more dependence on the oceans for food and energy it has never been more important to understand the changes that are happening in the marine environment. 

Smart Sound Plymouth is an environmentally-friendly network of advanced technologies which work together to gather data above and under the water. Featuring two large data buoys, a 5m driverless boat (known as the PML Pioneer) and a series of smaller robotic submarines, the wave and solar-powered fleet measures a range of aspects about the sea including dissolved oxygen, pH, CO2, and nutrients. They even measure data about the air and weather above.

Combined with data from the Western Channel Observatory (WCO) - an area of the English Channel which has been studied for more than a century - this enables scientists to understand how the ocean has changed, what is happening in it now, and how it may change in the future. In turn, this can help society make decisions about how best to protect the ocean while using the resources it provides.

The Smart Sound Plymouth fleet is the largest of its kind in the UK and is based at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML).  The vessels are connected using acoustic underwater communications and data is sent on a high-speed communications network. This can even be linked with data from satellites and artificial intelligence (AI) which can then help guide the fleet around the sea without human intervention.


Entrant: James Fishwick , Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Copyright: James Fishwick

Funding: UKRI – NERC, Heart of the South West – Local Enterprise Partnership and European Regional Development Fund.

Collaborators: Plymouth City Council, University of Plymouth, AutoNaut Ltd., ecoSUB Ltd., Hydroshpere Ltd., Mobilis and the Met Office.