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Nauticus Robotics Inc. this week announced that it has secured $12 million in a second tranche of investment that began in late 2023. The Webster, Texas-based company said it plans to use the funding to expedite commercialization of its flagship robot, the Aquanaut.
This month, Nauticus said it expects to begin the final certification of its remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) for commercial operations in depths ranging from 200 to 2,000 m (656 to 6,561 ft.). The company is preparing for Aquanaut‘s first job, inspecting a deep-water production facility of a major oil and gas company in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nauticus retools management on course to commercialization
Nauticus Robotics stated in a release the additional investment demonstrates ongoing support from its current stakeholders and is a part of strategic initiatives launched by its board of directors to enhance operations and financial sustainability. As part of this process, the company has assembled a new senior management team.
In January, Nauticus promoted John W. Gibson Jr. to the position of temporary CEO. He took over for departing co-founder Nicolaus Radford, who outlined his vision for the company and Aquanaut on The Robot Report Podcast Episode 100.
Gibson brings more than 35 years of experience in the energy and IT industries, including serving as president of Halliburton Energy Services. He was the president of Nauticus since last October and has been on its board since 2022.
Other recent executive appointments include Victoria Hay as interim chief financial officer and Nicholas Bigney as general counsel. Nauticus announced both in the fourth quarter of 2023. JD Yamokoski, the company’s longtime chief technology officer, has remained and rounds out its executive management team.
Aquanaut to take on new missions
Nauticus Robotics asserted that its new financial and business structure will help it provide proven and innovative systems for the “blue economy.” In the short term, this means working with oil and gas companies to improve inspections of underwater infrastructure.
In the long term, Nauticus said, the next generation of Aquanaut autonomous undersea robots will be used for maintenance and repair. Once offshore testing of the new new Aquanaut Mk2 vehicle is complete, the company plans to start working on a deepwater field.
“We currently have the intellectual property, prototypes, and the talent to deliver robust products and services,” said Gibson. “Team Nauticus is now laser-focused on converting our intellectual property, including both patents and trade secrets, into differentiated solutions that bring significant value to both commercial and government customers.”
“We are shifting from prototypes to creating reliable solutions for the blue economy,” he added. “We are pleased that our financing partners worked with us to address the ratchet provisions associated with earlier issued convertible securities, thereby enabling potential equity investment from others. We appreciate the engagement of the company’s board in addressing earlier challenges, and, as a result of our recent changes, are excited about the year ahead.”
Since becoming the president of Nauticus in October, Gibson said he has been assessing the company’s go-to-market strategy. Gibson acknowledged that finances and the ROV market required a realignment.
“The market sees our potential and supports our vision of delivering full autonomy to subsea operations,” he said. “However, the diffusion rate of our solutions requires a significant shift from the current paradigm of human operations to autonomous operations.”
“To eliminate the inertia to change, we recast our vision,” explained Gibson. “We realized the fastest path to full autonomy would be through the deployment of ‘tethered/augmented autonomy.’ This allows the customer and operators to retain the ability to intervene while simultaneously allowing Nauticus to gather the operational data needed to train our fully autonomous solutions for the future.”
Nauticus toolKITT works on other subsea systems
Nauticus Robotics noted that its software design doesn’t depend on a specific platform and that it can be used on any subsurface vehicle. The Nauticus toolKITT software has already been put to use on several competitor ROVs for military work.
The company claimed that this product strategy makes it a “multi-platform operating system for a vast array of vehicles already deployed.” By deploying “tethered autonomy” onto current platforms, Nauticus said it expects to improve the efficiency of these underwater vehicles by more than 20%, while also lowering emissions and making all underwater robots safer.
In addition, this approach should yield an additional revenue stream for already-developed intellectual property, said Nauticus. This also provides real application feedback, helping to prioritize the product development roadmap, it said.
The commercialization of this new subsea vehicle operating system will continue to fund the development of the fully autonomous and untethered future for the Aquanaut platform.
“What Nauticus has planned can truly revolutionize the entire industry – and I don’t use that term lightly,” said Sean Halpin, head of autonomous solutions at the company. “We can now normalize [the] performance of ROV operators because you will no longer have disparities between [the] skill levels of employees. This provides substantial safeguards to any company using this technology.”
Chuck Claunch, co-head of software solutions at Nauticus, added: “We are creating a win-win situation for ROV operators. We are not asking them to give up complete control. These robots are not replacing jobs, but instead are making them both easier and more reliable.”
ROV pilots are a highly skilled class of operators. As more subsea renewables, oil, and gas infrastructure is installed, there is a growing market for the maintenence and repair of these platforms. Automating many of the tasks for the inspection robots, keeps humans safely at the surface and enables more frequent inspections.
“It’s not dissimilar to when pilots first needed to adjust to automation in the airline industry — they didn’t lose their jobs; they gained more reliable support to enjoy them,” said Paul Dinh, co-head of software solutions at Nauticus.