According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), less than 10% of the ocean is mapped using modern sonar technology, and according to startup Bedrock Ocean Exploration, less than 5% is mapped to modern high-resolution standards.
“The ocean is our largest energy sink and thus it will be central to solving the crisis of our generation,” the startup writes on its site. But, “it’s hard to think about a problem we don’t fully understand, let alone change it.”
Because of the usual high costs associated with underwater vehicles, researchers have long relied on sonar to paint a map of the nebulous seafloor. However, sonar has issues like disturbing marine life due to the high-frequency soundwaves and noise, which interferes with whale and dolphin feeding and mating and has even caused some to become stranded.
Standing for sound navigation and ranging, sonar is used across 70% of the world’s oceans, whether it be by the Navy for military training, by oceanographers to create nautical charts, or by offshore wind developers to plan coastal turbines as the demand for renewables increases amid the climate crisis.
As that demand continues to rise, Bedrock, says better sea mapping technology is essential. So, the bicoastal Brooklyn/Bay Area startup is reinventing the tech with robotics.
Sonar technology is far from new — Leonardo da Vinci illustrated the first recorded use of the technique in 1490 when he inserted a tube into water to detect vessels by ear. Centuries later, French physicist Paul Langevin and Russian engineer Constantin Chilowski developed the technology we use today with the goal of detecting submarines, later to be used in World War I.
Founded in 2020 by engineer and former naval architect, Anthony DiMare, and Charles Chiau, an engineer who's built and piloted vehicles for the likes of SpaceX, Reliable Robotics, DeepFlight, and SRI International, Bedrock is giving subsea surveying a much-needed systems update.
With a recently announced $25.5 million Series A funding round, the startup says the funds will grow the company’s proprietary unmanned autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) acquisition system while bringing much-needed data to the offshore wind market.
The round was co-led by global venture capital firm Northzone and Primary Venture Partners, with significant participation from Valor Equity Partners, and existing investors Eniac, Quiet Capital, and R7.
“Today’s offshore wind energy sector faces substantial challenges due to the lack of detailed, rapidly available, up-to-date seafloor data,” Bedrock said in a statement.
“This lack of data upfront in turn hinders project planning, increases construction and site risks, and slows the pace of renewable energy development. Conventional oceanographic surveys are not only expensive, running into tens of millions of dollars, but also time-consuming, with final data potentially taking up to 12 months to materialize.”
Bedrock says its robotic vehicle and its cloud-based data platform, Mosaic, have the potential to clear these challenges and slash the time and costs it takes to develop projects through its faster, more detailed, and environmentally conscious surveying.
Essentially smaller, souped-up sonar machines, the startup says they are 100% electric, and by operating close to the seafloor its AUVs have “minimal to no sound harassment in Marine Protected Areas,” while operating at a speed that Bedrock says has a low chance of animal or environmental damage.
But the AUVs don’t just do sonar. They also perform bathymetry, which is a topographic map, side scans, which can be thought of as photography, sub-bottom profiles, which are like x-rays of the ocean floor, record backscatter, which is the reflection of soundwaves on the sea floor, essential for scientists to understand its characteristics, and is also a magnetometer, aka, a metal detector.
Bedrock's AUV and Mosaic Data Visualization // Image Courtesy of Bedrock
With this suite of abilities, in addition to accelerating offshore wind planning and building, the AUVs also have use in offshore wind maintenance and inspection.
Aside from offshore wind, the AUVs also have the potential for ocean-based renewable energy projects like tidal power and sequestered carbon storage and infrastructure like subsea cable laying and hydrogen production facilities.
But the company’s goals don’t end at accelerating the renewable energy transition.
According to Bedrock, understanding our oceans is critical for climate model accuracy, weather predictions for disaster mitigation like risks from tsunamis and floods, ocean safety, submarine communication, and sustainable ocean exploration and conservation.
So, as a public benefit cooperation, Bedrock ultimately wants to “provide the world with a free, publicly available map of our world’s oceans, over 50 times more detailed than the current best public map available,” creating what it says will be the first detailed map of the world’s oceans.
In total, the world’s oceans make up 361 million square kilometers, and as of 2022, Bedrock was able to map 34 million, or about 9% according to its Public Benefit Report. This is triple that of the previous year. The startup doesn’t plan to stop until it reaches 100%.
“Humanity needs a thorough seafloor map to ensure we can live on this planet for generations to come, and current maps don’t cut it,” its report concludes. “We’re changing this.”