Thanks to its flexibility and vertical integration, Brazil’s TideWise is one startup that looks well poised to benefit from the growing use of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) around the world. Brian Dixon takes a look, remotely.
Co-founded in Rio de Janeiro by Rafael Coelho and Sylvain Joyeux in May 2019, TideWise is planning to expand its operations across the Atlantic to Europe within the next two years, backed by Coelho’s seven years’ experience of designing USVs in the UK and Joyeux’s 10-year pedigree in developing robots and robotic systems.
“TideWise is a service provider company. We design, build and operate our USVs to provide a wide range of marine services, from bathymetry to offshore logistics and underwater robots tracking,” Joyeux says, citing the company’s main commercial advantage as lying within its vertical integration. “We master the technology we operate, which makes it fast and cheap to adapt it to suit our clients’ needs.”
The company’s first USV is Tupan. Designed in accordance with the latest Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) guidelines, this five-metre aluminium unit is capable of operating offshore for up to seven days without any outside assistance. Currently undergoing sea trials, the vessel will be field-tested in various different conditions, with the TideWise team looking to log 500 hours of operation this year. “We already have projects scheduled from October on with various customers,” Joyeux reveals.
Representing the new generation of USVs, Tupan‘s design incorporates a moon pool amidships where multiple sensors can be fitted and deployed. Due to what Joyeux describes as “the high cost of sourcing batteries in Brazil”, the USV at present employs a diesel-electric propulsion system. However, a fully electric version can be built to undertake “strict emissions-regulated missions” as needed, he says.
Similarly, while Tupan is currently operated remotely via the company’s intuitive WiseControl™ system, Joyeux expects its capabilities in this area to expand quickly, envisaging the USV to ultimately perform the bulk of routine operations autonomously.
“Broadly speaking, our systems are designed for flexibility. We don’t believe that single-use systems are a good thing, given both their high costs and the very diverse needs at sea,” he says. Indeed, the company is currently in talks to create add-ons to its software system that, while representing relatively minor developments, would nonetheless provide added functionality for customers.
“With our business model, the customer does not have to care about operating, maintaining and upgrading a USV, which is a complex piece of technology. We do that. The discussion is at the level of his or her business: what can the USV do to help?” Joyeux states.
As well as being “very robust and flexible”, the company’s system architecture was conceived from the outset to be easy to upgrade, both in terms of hardware and software. “We’ve spent significant effort on the software pipeline to safely deploy new or updated functionality in a matter of weeks and not years,” he says, asserting that as a result of this the process of incorporating any future technological developments or enhancements will be much cheaper and quicker than would be the case with previous generation USVs.
And when it comes to meeting the needs of customers, this adaptability and flexibility is a clear boon. As well as having just been selected by Petrobras to develop a new USV application for the oil and gas industry, TideWise is also gearing up to perform a port lidar and multibeam echosounder (MBES) inspection in “a big harbour” in Brazil. “Our client’s expectation is to reduce the cost of this sort of work by 40%,” Joyeux reports, noting that the increased levels of safety offered by its USVs is also proving yet another attractive incentive to prospective customers.