The prevalence of submersible vehicles creates a new language.
There are many submersible vehicles being used in the underwater environment nowadays. So much so that the acronyms being used to describe them can be morphed into their own language. For instance, we have AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicle), UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles), ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), BUVs (biomimetic underwater vehicle), and HOVs (human occupied vehicles). With so many diverse types of vehicles being deployed, it is easy to see why the business of AUV/UUV submersible vehicles is currently estimated to be $5.2 billion USD, according to a report from the US Department of Energy. With that price tag these acronyms are a bit more appealing to learn to speak fluently. An underwater industry professional using this technology now has a few more ways to turn a profit. With diving contractors already being an innovative group of people, adapting something to help the performance of this technology will certainly put your company in a position to earn more capital in an area that is in alignment with your core competency. One such opportunity currently being invested in at the price tag of about $600 million is underwater docking stations.
Underwater docking stations are needed for recharging AUVs and UUVs and for data transfer for all underwater vehicles. This includes HOVs such as submarines that open themselves up to vulnerabilities when they must surface to transfer data.
This is not just an interest of the US government. AUVs, UUVs and HOVs are used by governments globally to conduct some of the most top-secret missions and data collection from sea mapping to oil spill cleanup. Currently, data is transferred from an AUV or UUV when the vehicle is brought back to the mother vessel. The vehicle is charged at the same time and then must be redeployed, which limits the amount of time a vehicle can be out on a mission. By extending the cycle time from deployment to retrieval, covert missions have less risk. Also, in the event the vehicle is damaged the data can be retrieved from the nearest docking station instead of having to recover the whole vehicle.
The development of these docking stations has enormous potential. If a private company were to develop and lease these docking stations, they can be utilized by an already large commercial market. Another way to earn ROI would be to sell a data plan like a cell phone company and to sell the charging capability in an analogous way Tesla cars are set up to charge money for the use of a power system. They currently charge by kilowatt hour at a rate of about $0.26 USD, according to Yahoo Finance.
Tesla already has a software called Autobidder that has been developed for autonomous billing. “Autobidder provides independent power producers, utilities and capital partners the ability to autonomously monetize battery assets. Autobidder is a real-time trading and control platform that provides value-based asset management and portfolio optimization, enabling owners and operators to configure operational strategies that maximize revenue according to their business objectives and risk preferences. Autobidder is part of Autonomous Control, Tesla’s suite of optimization software solutions,” as stated on Tesla’s website.
Imagine being able to have a small fleet of these docking stations in strategic places in the ocean and being able to charge for their use the same way a self-service gas station charges for gas in remote locations. The upfront investment would no doubt be significant, however, the ROI has uncapped potential. This could be like an underwater version of the SpaceX Starlink program, except I do not think Space X has made any moves in this direction as it is currently focused on Mars missions. As we all know, the underwater world and outer space share similar characteristics and when a diver feels the need to be even more cool, he simply becomes an astronaut.
An example of the aforementioned docking stations is the one developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). It is an AUV docking station for a 21-inch (54 cm) diameter AUV. The system was designed for operation with cabled undersea observatories in water depths up to 4 km deep and has been demonstrated in the open ocean, though at much shallower depths (James 2007).
Hobson, B. & McEwen, Robert & Erickson, Jon & Hoover, Thomas & Mcbride, Lance & Shane, Farley & Bellingham, James. (2007). The Development and Ocean Testing of an AUV Docking Station for a 21 AUV. Oceans Conference Record (IEEE). 1 – 6. 10.1109/OCEANS.2007.4449318.
Tesla Website https://www.tesla.com/support/energy/tesla-software/autobidder https://finance.yahoo.com/news/much-does-cost-charge-tesla-120600948.html#:∼:text=Charging%20your%20Tesla%20at%20a,was%20discontinued%20in%20recent%20years.
U.S. Department of Energy. Underwater Vehicle Charging. 2019.