UNDERSEE – Multi-sensor fusion system for water quality monitoring

The start-up UNDERSEE has developed a multi-sensor fusion system which allows users to monitor and predict water quality changes in marine environments. The goal of the company is to provide a preventive and maintenance-free solution. The next stage is internationalisation to the North Sea Region.

Giving the lack of water quality data and related reliable systems, UNDERSEE sought to solve these challenges by providing a predictive tool consisting of in-situ data, satellite data and numerical modelling. As a result, the Portuguese-based company has developed an easy-to-install in-situ data acquisition system (the UNDERSEE_water) and a user-friendly cloud platform (the UNDERSEE_cloud) combined with space data and forecasting tools. This enables users to have easy access to water quality data and dynamics, which is of great importance to stakeholders that are dependent on the quality of marine environments, such as aquaculture and tourism.

UNDERSEE“Our team is committed to bring knowledge about marine environments by providing water dependent stakeholders with simple access to water quality data. We provide an end-to-end service with an integrated offering of hardware, software, installation, maintenance and customer support, based on a Connected Product-as-a-Service model where customers subscribe for the usage of the product (data-based fee) and automated decision-making tools”, Jorge Alexandre Vieira, founder and CEO of UNDERSEE, explains. The project started in 2016 and was launched under the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre in Portugal. The team consists of four full time employees and two part-time employees.

Real-time data and early warning

UNDERSEE_water is equipped with state-of-the-art sensor technology used to collect data from water bodies in real-time. The results are then communicated to the UNDERSEE_cloud, where the in-situ data is combined with EOD products and numerical models. This gives a holistic view of the water quality in near real-time, and provides users with more consistent, accurate and useful information. The incoming data is continuously treated and analysed with hydrodynamic models and IoT tools to predict the state of water in the upcoming days, allowing users to receive alerts and early warnings of possible threats. Our solution can be used to implement preventive decisions when it comes to changes in the water quality, turning the information into actionable data. Also, the users will only pay when the data is received”, Vieira explains. The target users are Aquaculture Producers, Research Centres and Environmental Agencies.

Enables precision aquaculture

UNDERSEE_water is composed by a plug-and-play system and 3G or SATCOM communications, and is easy to adapt to existing structures such as aquaculture cages, buoys, bridges or boats. Via the UNDERSEE_cloud dashboard, users can easily access several features, such as real-time water parameters, historical data of water quality, and automated decision-making tools based on early warnings. Due to the lack of a real-time water quality monitoring, the economic losses related to harmful algal blooms (HABs) has been estimated at €919 million per year in the Europe. To overcome these challenges, aquaculture companies tend to make operational decisions based on reliable water quality data and dynamics of the water. UNDERSEEHowever, the traditional water monitoring technology requires a high human intervention andmaintenance, which normally leads to low quality of datasets since these companies tend to focus on the production rather than monitoring the quality of the water. The UNDERSEE solution allows users to monitor and predict water quality changes without dealing with sensor maintenance. Aquaculture producers can thus use our solution to prevent production losses and optimise fish feeding and growth. They can access forecasts about dissolved oxygen for the upcoming days and will receive warnings about potential algae blooms or severe oxygen depletion events via SMS or e-mail”, Vieira continues.

Expanding to Norway and beyond

Norway is a key market due to its large aquaculture industry, and we believe our solution would be of great benefit to the industry. We have already started the internationalisation process and the plan is be to established in Norway next year. We are currently preparing the implementation of a pilot line in the fjords of Brønnøysund, Norway”, Vieira reveals. Portugal and Norway are currently the primary target markets for UNDERSEE, but other potential markets are Scotland and Ireland. In the medium-term, the company hopes to see their solution implemented globally.

A strong network is the key to success

The full-service architecture still requires ongoing hardware and software developments. UNDERSEE is currently engaging with relevant players to start the implementation of demonstration projects and to establish long-term relationships. The UNDERSEE_water device is currently being implemented on a ferry boat, and in the next 18 months the device will monitor the water quality of the Tagus Estuary in Lisbon. This service is integrated in the project Coordinated Atlantic Coastal Operational Oceanographic Observatory (MyCOAST), funded by the EU INTERREG Atlantic Area transnational cooperation programme.

“We need to build long-term collaborations with governments, NGOs, Research Centres, Foundations, Innovation Clusters, and Industry in order to succeed. The ESA BIC Portugal programme and ESA Business Applications has allowed us to start our activity, and the financial support from ESA is still decisive for the success of our project. Our recent participation in the programmes BLUEBIO VALUE in Portugal and Katapult Ocean in Norway have also been very important, and we already started to build partnerships with key stakeholders such as The Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), Oceano Azul Foundation, AIR Centre, NIVA, GRID-Arendal, UN Environment, Norwegian aquaculture producers and Portuguese shellfish producers. We still need funding to further develop our solution and scale up our business, but in order to be successful all the potential users and beneficiaries must be involved from the beginning”, Vieira comments. He also underlines that the most difficult barrier is the fact that it takes time to change customer behaviour and convince business to adopt new models that will change their traditional ways of doing things.

By Anna Lygre Solvang