50%

 = % of oxygen

 produced in the ocean

The algae in the ocean produces at least 50% of our oxygen while fisheries and aquaculture assure the livelihoods of 10 to 12% of the world’s population. This is threatened by the many challenges faced by the ocean: unsustainable fishing, plastic pollution, increase of global shipping, marine biodiversity extinction… and it is urgent to address them.

L’Atelier BNP Paribas met Liane Thompson, co-founder at Aquaai, in San Diego. A start-up which mission is to save the seas. The CEO shared her vision for the future of oceans, and explained how her company is looking to have a positive impact by leveraging technology.

L'Atelier:  Can you tell us more about Aquaai, how did it start?

Regard d'expert

Liane Thompson

Co-founder at  Aquaai

Real fish have adopted our robot

Liane Thompson: I was a New York Times executive producer when I met Simeon in Israel. I was telling the story of inventors - James Bond’s “Q” like - and he was one of them. He is now the co-founder of Aquaai and the great mind behind the conception of our fish-robot. What inspired us? His daughter Emily’s questions about saving the oceans. Within a few months, the fishlike robot was born! 

We founded Aquaai in 2014 and decided to be first based in the Monterey Bay, close to San Francisco, with the hope of taping into the local Tech talent pool to develop our technology. We finally decided to move to San Diego, where we are now a team of 8: all ocean lovers with diverse backgrounds in oceanography, robotics and AI.

We are very happy to have proven that the first phase of our project works, since real fish have adopted our robot. We now wish for humans to adopt our robotic fish as well and work with us.

How does the fish-robot actually work?

Our fish is named Nammu, after the goddess of the seas. We designed it with Mother Nature in mind: by mimicking other fish we wanted to make sure that our robot would be unobtrusive to natural habitat. It is equipped with cameras and sensors in a “plug and play” set up that varies depending on the mission.

The fish is powered by electric batteries and is remotely controlled. There are three different modes: autonomous, programmed (for example on a specific task such as a net inspection) or manual. Nammu is constantly connected to a floating buoy that can transmit the data collected to the platform.

Nammu, Aquaai's fish-robot

Aquaai

What are the types of missions led by Nammu in the ocean?

We are first concentrating our effort on the aquaculture industry (Editor’s note: the farming of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants, algae, and other organisms). Our fish can be used for several missions such as food allocation, health treatment supervision or net inspection.

Kvarøy Fish farm in Norway, which supplies farmed salmon to the American supermarket chain Whole Foods, is currently testing Aquaai’s Nammu. The first results are very positive and we were amazed by how quickly the salmon accepted our robot!

We are also working with several non-profits to see how our fish could contribute to a better understanding of the effects of climate change on our oceans. Unfortunately, we are going to have more storms and floods and we believe that our unit could also be deployed in contaminated waters to help with disease prevention.

We are also strongly convinced that our fish robot could help fight Illegal fishing. Organizations such as Sea Shepherd now use air drones to detect illegal fishing activities but it will come a time when we will need to gather proof to be able to prosecute wrongdoings. This is where we could have a role to play, since Nammu has the power to see what is really happening under the water.

Are you pioneering a fish-as-a-service model?

We have been the first company to use the “fish-as-a-service” term. Like other “as-a-service” model, we let our customers lease the fish, you don’t have to buy Nammu. The data collected by our fish is optimized, analyzed and put at disposal of our clients through a platform with a monthly subscription model.

Nammu in action
  • 2 min

What are your ambitions for the future?

We picture ourselves as a dominant player in the ocean world with an affordable and easy-to-use system. At some point, we would like all the data collected from the ocean to be shared openly. Blockchain could be a viable option to explore at this stage.  
By Benjamin Lesage
Analyst