Science minister opens new Marine Robotics Innovation Centre at NERC's National Oceanography Centre

24 November 2015

Universities & Science Minister Jo Johnson yesterday officially opened a £3 million centre to develop new technology for the emerging marine robotics sector.

Jo Johnson at NOC

Jo Johnson at the opening of the Marine Robotics Innovation Centre at NERC's National Oceanography Centre.

Based at NERC's National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southampton, the new Marine Robotics Innovation Centre will be a hub for businesses developing autonomous platforms, with novel sensors that will be used to cost-effectively capture data from the world's oceans.

The minister of state for universities & science, Jo Johnson, said:

I was honoured to open the new Marine Robotics Innovation Centre at the UK's world class National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. The UK is leading the way in marine science and this new facility will help to put wind in the sales of our marine industry.

NERC's chief executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said:

NERC's National Oceanography Centre is not only one of world's leading institutes for the study of our oceans, but has also led the world in the development of marine autonomous systems to explore this most hostile environment. This investment promises to redefine our approach to sustained observations of the oceans and their living systems. The new Marine Robotics Innovation Centre has been created to further develop emerging marine robot technologies and to maintain our world-class status. It brings together NOC engineers and their industry colleagues to foster innovation and build this sector, translating science into technological solutions.

NOC's executive director, Professor Ed Hill, said:

The launch of the Marine Robotics Innovation Centre is a very important development, because it is all about turning great science into great innovation for the benefit of the UK economy.

Autonomous measurement systems for the ocean have grown out of demands for frontier science in extreme environments. Much like space science, oceanography too creates spin-offs which bring technologies back into more everyday use for a wide range of applications.

Marine autonomous systems offer to transform the work of many sectors, including environmental monitoring. For example, they will improve data collection for weather and climate prediction, for defence, and for the emerging needs of offshore energy and other industries.

Not only are there multiple applications, but the UK also has a diverse, vibrant sector of small technology companies able to take the innovations to wider markets. We will be working alongside several of these companies in the centre and engaging with the associate members, who are likely to be major users of the technology developed there.

The Marine Robotics Innovation Centre has been operational since the summer of 2015. Planet Ocean Ltd, ASV and SeeByte Ltd have already moved into the centre, which provides office and testing facilities along with access to specialist instrumentation

In addition, NERC, Innovate UK and DSTL are investing over £13 million in Small Business Research Initiative projects, the first of which has led to the development of two highly innovative autonomous surface vehicles that are now competing on the global stage. The two small and medium-size enterprises involved in this project have already received orders in excess of £1·1 million, accompanied by steadily growing workforces, and are selling into oil and gas, defence and other offshore sectors, where reducing costly ship time, improving safety and long-term monitoring are driving adoption of robotic technologies that can stay at sea for weeks, or even months, unmanned.

The Marine Robotics Innovation Centre was born out of the government's 'eight great technologies' funding initiative. The funding has built the innovation centre and provided capital investment for a range of underwater robotic equipment that can go further and deeper than most systems in commercial use.

Further information

Tamera Jones
NERC media office
01793 411561


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). This year marks NERC's 50th anniversary.

2. NERC's National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is one of only half a dozen or so large oceanographic institutions world-wide, capable of undertaking and supporting global-scale ocean science - in which the UK is a major player and has vital national interests. We have an exciting vision for turning our world class scientific capability into major business opportunities for the UK.

3. The vision for the Marine Robotics Innovation Centre is to bring together world-class marine robotics technology capability (developed for scientific ocean exploration) with industry capabilities (mostly centres in numerous small technology businesses) to transfer marine robotics technology into a vast array of offshore applications for multiple uses in many maritime sectors.

4. The UK has a globally unique cluster of concentrated academic and industrial expertise in the Southampton-Solent region to develop new products and services to exploit this rapidly emerging technology into new markets. For example, marine robotic and autonomous systems offer the prospect of liberating many marine operations from expensive specialist ships - thereby transforming productivity and improving the quality of what can be done by providing more continuous marine monitoring capability than would otherwise be possible.

5. Industries that rely on the sea make an important contribution to the UK economy (£49 billion gross added value per year; 900,000 jobs; 4·2% gross domestic product).

  • This sector has continued to grow even during the economic downturn.
  • The marine environment indirectly influences other sectors of the economy, principally through their sensitivity to seasonal weather patterns.

6. The marine environment is critical to addressing many key challenges facing the UK in the 21st century, and the UK is a world-leader in the scientific understanding of it. The deep ocean is becoming increasingly important for food, minerals, hydrocarbons and other natural products, leading to new ventures such as deep sea mining. The UK's leadership in international ocean governance is underpinned by its dynamic partnerships between knowledge providers, policymakers and innovative companies, its infrastructure, and its scientific credibility.