By Cailin Burmaster, Mission Specialist @ Open Ocean Robotics
When returning from a trip, people always ask “How was [insert place name here]?”, I never know how to answer that question succinctly. How do you summarize the sights of an unfamiliar city, the experiences of a different culture, the connections made, and the personal introspection that often comes with travel, in just a few sentences?
The place in question is the kingdom of Bahrain, a small island country in the Middle East. Open Ocean Robotics travelled to Bahrain in November 2022 to participate in the US Navy’s Digital Horizons exercise. The goal of Digital Horizons is to advance the use of Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USVs) for ocean surveillance and security; deploying robotic boats to monitor the ocean uses less resources and reduces the risk to human life. Open Ocean’s Data Xplorer was one of the USVs chosen to be deployed in the Arabian Gulf for this exercise. My colleague Madie and I travelled to Bahrain for the final phases of the exercise, joining the rest of the team already on-site. As members of the Ocean Services department at OOR, along with our operations manager Wes, it is our job to deploy and operate the USV while it is on the water.
So how was Bahrain?
It was warm and dry, as to be expected in the desert in December. We stayed in Manama, the capital city, in an area called Juffair. Manama is a modern city of about 200,000 people that attracts many visitors from surrounding countries for entertainment; in contrast to other middle Eastern nations, Bahrain is not a dry country. Manama was lively during our time there, with excitement from the FIFA World Cup in neighbouring Qatar spilling over into Bahrain.
The day after landing (after a 25-hour travel day from Victoria, BC), we went to the navy base to get oriented and to perform maintenance on the USV, readying it for deployment the following day. We met engineers and operators from several of the other ocean technology companies also there for Digital Horizons.
When asked about our work in Bahrain, I think about how the exercise felt more collaborative than competitive. Though we were working alongside companies ultimately vying for the same clients and contracts as OOR, the collective drive to advance the use of autonomous tech for maritime applications was palpable. Digital Horizons felt like a “show and tell” of ocean technology and provided a platform for some serious nerding out. Learning about other USVs and the variety of creative solutions developed to address the same technical and environmental challenges we face at Open Ocean was a definite highlight.
The camaraderie of Digital Horizons was exemplified during social events woven into the downtime between work. Ocius, an Australian-based USV company, organized go karting at the International Karting Circuit, located next door to the real deal used for Formula One. Deemed the “Ocius Grand Prix,” the evening offered an opportunity for networking among the ocean tech companies and a chance to compete off the water.
If using a metric of fun had while in Bahrain, we certainly saw success.
Our work during Digital Horizons was also successful, with the operation running smoothly overall. Having worked with ocean technology since 2014, I’ve seen the range of technical difficulties that can arise when you throw robots in the ocean. Data Xplorer™’s meritorious performance in Bahrain was reflective of the months of work put in ahead of the project, and if we use a metric of readiness and adaptability, our team deserves a gold star. However, I have heard many times within this industry that any deployment where you get the equipment back is a successful one. By that metric, all vendors at Digital Horizons, Open Ocean included, saw success.