Subsea Searching Efficiently, Cost Effectively

by Greg Trauthwein
Thursday, May 08, 2008

The international subsea technology community often laments the need for qualified workers and interested youth to fuel the industry’s bright future prospects. Those in the know should tap the energy of Karl Kenny, the passionate, straight-talking leader of Marport, a quickly emerging pioneer in the world of software defined sonar (SDS) technology. Karl Kenny is, in many ways, the antithesis of the accepted stereotype of many leaders in the subsea technology world.

Loud, direct and unabashedly passionate about the technology Marport offers and the markets he serves, Kenny combines a unique mixture of finesse and bulldozer in talking up Marport’s SDS technology and its applications across the subsea technology sector.

“The trick in being a pioneer is not getting killed,” Kenny said during MTR’s recent visit to Marport’s office on the harbor front in . “I’d rather be a settler.”

Marport is small by corporate standards – with 40 people and $10m in annual turnover – but large in its thinking and action, striving to build the next generation in ocean sensing today.

Marport, like many of its brethren in , was born in the fishing business, and to this day this industry remains the company’s staple. But foolhardy it would be to pigeon hole Marport or the hard-driving Kenny into one market niche, as it is embarked on the creation and refinement of a technology concept that it claims will revolutionize the way in which ocean sensors and built, deployed and modified; across the subsea technology spectrum including fisheries, ocean science, defense, and offshore energy.

SDS: What is it?

Marport develops software defined subsea acoustic products to explore and utilize the world’s oceans. SDS is defined by Marport as an adaptive, future-proof solution for subsea sensing and communication. With SDS, one common platform replaces fixed hardware with programmable components that are controlled by software. The heart of the SDS solution is the Universal Sensor Processor (USP) supplied by Canon. The USP is roughly the dimension of a pack of matches but five times as thick. The common platform is designed to replace fixed hardware with programmable components that are controlled by software. SDS is designed to power next-generation sensors, sonar and subsea communications.

To date, the company reports it has invested $5 million into R&D – a sizeable chunk given the company’s total size – with the aim of leading the market forward.

“We look at the value of Maport as the potential to provide solutions to industrial challenges,” said Derrick Rowe, Marport’s Chairman of the Board and a leader in garnering finance for the company. “This is a tool to help solve a problem, so you are selling the value, not the cost. We are providing solutions that help make more money.”

With the SDS solution, a user can literally change the functionality of a piece of equipment by changing the software, not the hardware.

To illustrate, Kenny explained how one of its fishing clients, fishing off of in about 250 m of water, wanted to adjust his instruments to a 500 m depth. The captain simply phoned a Marport technician, who emailed the upgrade directly to the ship. Then, using Bluetooth technology, the captain was able to update the instrument – immediately, wirelessly and at-sea – to start fishing deeper waters. One piece of hardware that is multifunction, changed with software.

For those quick to dismiss upstart technology outright, a quick check of Marport’s partner list; a list which includes many of the expected partners given its geographic location, including the NRC Institute for Ocean Technology, but also MIT, , Questar Tangent, NOAA, Rolls-Royce and SINTEF.

While the company logged many successes in 2007, including the development and launch of new software defined sensors for commercial fisheries, the ubiquitous Kenny is not resting, physically or on the company’s laurels. He seeks to make serious in-roads into the Offshore O&G business in the coming year – driven by the recent opening of an office in – and has a slew of new products and research programs running concurrently.

Other new products under development using SDS technology include:

_ Swath Bathymetry Imaging Sonar

_ Single Beam Echosounder

_ Beam Echosounder

_ Doppler Current Profiler

_ Underwater Wireless Acoustic Modem

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