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Remote data collection – safely, sustainably and at scale

Founded in 2017 and based in Carlingford, Ireland, XOCEAN is an innovative data company providing full unmanned Over The Horizon operations to energy, offshore wind and government clients across Europe and the US. Using satellite communications, each of its unmanned surface vessels (USVs) sends real-time images and situational awareness data to XOCEAN’s Operations Centre, where a team of qualified USV pilots keep watch over and control the vessels 24/7.

James Ives, founder and CEO, explains that, at core, XOCEAN is a data company. “There’s a growing demand for data to support the ocean economy,” he notes, “and the deliverable we provide to our customers, ultimately, is data – seabed data, water column data, environmental data.”

With clients including oil and gas majors BP, Shell and Equinor as well as government agencies such as the UK Hydrographic Office, for XOCEAN, “Systems that are transportable, have strong reliability and exceptional data quality – they’re the things that make a difference.”

Operating with a focus on safety, quality, cost control and carbon-neutrality, XOCEAN uses a wide variety of equipment in its survey work, including sub-bottom profilers, side-scan sonars, magnetometers and multibeam systems.

“We have a really experienced team, who have expertise using a wide range of systems,” Ives explains. “But it’s fair to say that the sensor we use most of the time is a multibeam. We regularly use R2Sonic systems – most frequently the Sonic 2024 and for specific projects the Sonic 2026 & Sonic 2020 – and we’ve achieved excellent data quality with these systems. There’s quite a large array of sensors we can attach to the USV. But the multibeam is the most common system.”

The right technology for fully remote operations

Working at distances of 150 nautical miles and more offshore, “What we’re looking to do is manage the vessels over a relativity low satellite bandwidth connection,” Ives explains. “We’re using the computing power on board the vessel to run as many of the systems as possible – and push the computational work to the offshore end. So, if we are running a multibeam system, we run all of the acquisition software that goes with that on board the USV, and then all we need to do is manage and control that remotely over the satellite.”

“We have performed both bathymetry surveys and asset integrity inspection surveys with R2Sonic equipment, looking at subsea structures such as pipelines. There, getting very high resolution and density of data is really important. For these applications we often use dual Sonic 2024 in Ultra High Definition mode.”

Recently, XOCEAN completed a project for the Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm in the UK, looking at turbine foundations and inter-array cables. “On that survey, we used a Sonic 2024,” Ives explains. Despite challenging weather conditions, and wave heights in excess of 2.5m, “We were able to achieve exceptional data quality results.”

Amid the challenges ushered in by COVID-19, XOCEAN has continued to support clients on essential and safety critical operations. “Our entire team is working remotely with our USV pilots and online surveyors, all delivering 24/7 survey operations from their home offices,” notes Ives. “I think that remote systems are really important for the future.”

With a fleet of 8 USVs currently in operation and a further 4 under construction, XOCEAN looks forward to continuing to provide turnkey data collection services to surveyors, companies and agencies internationally in a way that’s safe and sustainable.

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