The ocean is the final frontier of exploration on earth — and AI is helping to further our knowledge. Because of its abilities to operate in real time, accelerate discoveries, operate autonomously, and explore dangerous areas, AI is making ocean exploration more accessible than ever.


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Despite massive technological leaps in the past few decades, most of the ocean — and its inhabitants — remain unexplored or undiscovered. Artificial intelligence may soon change that. Research teams and private companies are using AI to further their reach like never before.

How Far Ocean Exploration Technology Has Come

The ocean is the final frontier — as close to an alien planet as most people will ever get. Although it covers roughly 70% of the Earth’s surface, only 5% has been explored to date. There are entire species and underwater expanses humans have never seen before.

Most of the ocean remains unexplored because researchers haven’t had the technology to study it until now. While underwater drones have existed since the 1950s, their reach was limited because they needed to be manned by a crew.

While modern autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROUVs) can operate with little to no human intervention, they’re not perfect. They’re often limited by range, depth or unexpected underwater obstacles. 

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AI addresses those gaps. It can react to its surroundings in real time, make decisions without input and process faster than any human mind. In other words, it could permanently transform ocean exploration.

How AI Enhances Ocean Exploration Operations

AI is transforming ocean exploration in multiple ways. 

Operates in Real Time

Since algorithms collect, process and analyze data in real time, they can make decisions almost instantaneously. In other words, research teams no longer have to wait to review images, audio recordings and terrain maps manually — an incredibly time-consuming process since they often amass terabytes of information. 

Accelerates Discoveries

AI-powered AUVs can rely on algorithms’ massive knowledge base to identify and track sea life. Considering an estimated 91% of marine species remain undiscovered, accelerating the cataloging process this way could reveal dozens of never-before-seen creatures. 

AI-powered discoveries are already underway. Machine learning researchers from the University of Victoria teamed up with marine biologists from the Canadian government to develop an AI classification system for schools of herring. Their deep learning network outperforms machine learning algorithms on recall and precision.

Operates Autonomously

Even with tools like sonar or ROUVs, manual data collection is time-consuming — someone has to be present to make decisions, review records and monitor the mission. With AI-powered AUVs, they can let the machine do all of the work while achieving the same results.

AI-powered AUVs have cameras and sensors, enabling them to autonomously collect data 24/7. Unlike crewed vehicles, they don’t need to surface when marine life hides for too long or dives too deep. Instead, they can remain underwater to map the ocean floor or take readings. 

Explores the Unexplorable

AI-powered AUVs can delve into dangerous, unexplored underwater areas to take readings, record video or take samples — all without risking human life. The algorithms are intelligent enough to make independent decisions, so they can safely navigate treacherous locations without human crews or remote operators. 

The Future of AI Ocean Exploration

Currently, two obstacles stand in the way of AI-powered ocean exploration’s full potential. The first is battery life — underwater vehicles and tools will need a robust energy source since algorithms can be resource-intensive. While researchers are experimenting with the idea of solar, geothermal or floating charging stations, each has unique hurdles.

The other main obstacle is data aggregation. Researchers need massive collections of information on marine life, underwater terrain and more to train algorithms properly — but much of the ocean is unexplored. Additionally, many records are unpublished. 

There’s no doubt research teams will find workarounds to these hurdles in time. In fact, progress is already underway. The Seabed 2030 project, for example, has been aggregating data from repositories worldwide to reach its goal of mapping the entire seabed by 2030. Its AI-powered sonar ensures future information acquisition will be quality-controlled.  

AI’s Future Is at the Bottom of the Ocean

Breakthroughs are inevitable as AI becomes more prominent in exploration projects. Soon, the ocean may go from 5% explored to 100% — with the power of machine learning and deep learning algorithms, it’s only a matter of time.

About the Author:

Zachary AmosZachary Amos is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he writes about artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and other technology-related topics.