A robot sea craft helps count fish

The six-metre-long autonomous vessel is equipped with artificial intelligence and a range of data gathering equipment, including a battery powered echosounder that can estimate the size of fish populations.

Called Nemesis, it has been developed by New Zealand robotics company X-craft Enterprises and has just been on its first deep water test run in the Cook Strait.

NIWA fisheries scientist Richard O’Driscoll is hopeful this type of technology will complement the work being done on the larger research ships.

“We’re delighted with how the trials went – there was a lot of tide pushing against the vessel, but it maintained its course perfectly. This new, state-of-the-art sea craft opens up opportunities for us to collect better information on fisheries,” said Richard.

“Hoki are one of the species we research – they have major spawning events, but we are currently only able to collect data on these for a few weeks every two years. With this vessel, we’d like to be able to monitor the entire spawning event, every time it happened.”

The vessel can collect good quality acoustic data in depths of at least 600 metres. It can be programmed to follow a specific track and is equipped with anti-collision technology.

Philip Solaris from X-craft Enterprises highlighted the wider impacts that new technology like this can have.

“With all the impacts of climate change and ecological damage, there has never been a more pressing time to employ all the technological capability at our disposal to monitor the state of our environment."

“With robotic craft we can deploy fleets over a very large area for an extended period. They can gather data remotely, be re-tasked and controlled from anywhere in the world, and are quiet, so have minimal disturbance to animals. They are also really cost effective.”

NIWA hopes to be routinely using the vessel for monitoring fish within the next five years.