Austin company changing the way we explore the ocean

Despite being some 200 miles from the nearest coastline, Austin based Terradepth is helping people make better decisions about the ocean. 

There are many things that Terradepth does to do this, including creating a data solution platform to organize ocean data, launching robot submarines, and research and development making it easier, cheaper and safer to collect ocean data. 

Despite the advances of Google Earth and the amount of space exploration that has increased in recent years, not much is known about the ocean. In reality, about five to ten percent of the bottom of the ocean has been researched. Some experts believe we know much more about the surface of the moon and the surface of Mars than the ocean. 

Joe Wolfel is the founder and CEO of Terradepth. He was in the U.S. Navy, and spent a lot of time in the water as a Navy Seal. 

"We’ve launched a lot of technology into space, which is great, we’re all about space exploration, exploration in general here, we just didn’t see a lot of effort being put into the ocean, in a lot of ways because I think people assume we already knew about [the ocean]," Wolfel said. 

There are a number of people who can use the data collected by Terradepth. This includes government agencies and a number of commercial industries like offshore wind production. 

"The Nord Stream cable was sabotaged, which created as a natural disaster, where now you've got gas floating up through the ocean," Wolfel said. "So really, anybody who's got a a construction project that is going to go down on the ocean floor or an existing one, that they need to understand the safety and, you know, whether or not it's at risk would buy data from us as well as government. So, NOAA, we're likely going to go do a marine sanctuary survey so that we understand the health of the corals in the Gulf of Mexico, for example." 

Right now much of ocean exploration requires a big ship with a lot of people on it, supervising the research. Terradepth is trying to minimize the need for ships that emit large amounts of carbon and put humans at risk in this process. 

"A lot of people think that the ocean’s having in a moment today and we actually are seeing a lot more interest in ocean mapping as the company has been in existence since 2018. So there's a current initiative called GEBCO 2030, and that's an initiative to map the vast majority of the seabed by 2030 using ships of opportunity. So we actually take that data and we put it in our cloud platform called Absolute Ocean, so that people can see that really easily." 

The other piece is interest in space exploration. Amazon Web Services tapped Terradepth as the only ocean company to be part of the Space Accelerator. 

As for the submarines themselves, VP of Engineering Steve DeLory is trying to make robot submarines that can go on 30 day missions — as opposed to the typical mission that can last hours or in the best case a few days. Not only can they go on longer missions, but these can make decisions on their own. 

"We’ve heard a lot about A.I.. We use A.I. technologies for target recognition and other aspects, and we need to develop more of those technologies to make the submarine smarter so we can stay out of trouble, avoid colliding with things on the surface, and make decisions underwater real time so that if it finds something, it can re task itself and go and do a different kind of mission. And that's difficult to do," DeLory said.