A provider of underwater robotics out of University of Sydney, which claims it could have prevented California’s recent Oroville dam crisis, has raised $1 million for global expansion.
Abyss Solutions, whose 18-member team comes mostly from Sydney Uni’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics, claims to have built high-resolution sensors paired with fault detection algorithms that, when attached to aquatic drones, can spot damage to in-water infrastructure far earlier than scuba-diving engineers could.
“For the first time, dam owners can get a full view of their dam wall underwater,” said co-founder Nasir Ahsan.
February’s Oroville dam crisis, which forced 180,000 Californians to flee their homes, was caused by cracks in the dam’s spillway which had gone undetected since the last round of crack repairs in 2013.
“Abyss can identify spillway failures before they become a serious, costly problem like that,” Mr Ahsan said.
Water utility Sydney Water was Abyss Solutions’ launch client in 2015, and it helped shape the startup’s service in a project to map, survey and provide a damage assessment for Alexandra Canal, a heritage-listed waterway directly south of Sydney Airport.
“We’re academics, we think everything’s cool, but Sydney Water helped us refine what was commercially viable,” said another Abyss co-founder, Masood Naqshbandi.
The startup ended up attaching its sensors to both aquatic drones and surface vessels to produce a three-dimensional model of Alexandra Canal, with a heat map to indicate the severity of cracks its algorithm had detected, with all images geo-tagged for easier reference.
Mr Naqshbandi said the utility was now using its information in ongoing negotiations with Sydney City Council on the building of cycling infrastructure at the canal.
Another Sydney Water project saw Abyss robots brave the hazardous waters around the Sydenham Pit & Pumping Station, geo-tagging faults and relaying high-definition images of cracks that in some cases were less than 2 millimetres wide, Mr Naqshbandi claimed.
Other Abyss clients include Yarra Valley Water, where its robots inspected a 32 metre-wide reservoir tank, and San Diego Water, where the startup enhanced and analysed images the American city’s utility had already taken of its drinking water pipe.
“The challenge there was to identify the difference between corrosion and calcium carbonate,” said Mr Naqshbandi.
Abyss Solutions will use the $1 million funding round to hire more engineers. One project will give it capability for seabed mapping, according to Mr Naqshbandi, by combining visual data with sonar signals.
“For seabed work we’ll also need our ROVs [remotely operated underwater vehicles] to be untethered and completely automated, so they can go off and do their thing over very wide areas. We’re investing toward that,” he said.
Most of Abyss’s funding came from Follow[the]Seed, a global venture capital fund. A small stake is also held by Telstra’s startup accelerator, muru-D, from which Abyss graduated in 2016. Mr Naqshbandi said Abyss was on track for “high six figure” revenue in 2016-17.
Read more: http://www.afr.com/technology/university-of-sydney-startup-abyss-raises-1m-to-take-underwater-data-service-global-20170509-gw0tap#ixzz4gm03M0wZ
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