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Maritime Forum

Cluster story: Digitalisation

Researchers and entrepreneurs increasingly exploit digital technologies to monitor the ocean, create new business models and, naturally, safeguard the marine environment. The trend is well reflected in recently introduced EMFF-funded projects


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THE OCEAN: a quintessential example of nature’s beauty, power and perfection.

The very word “ocean” conjures up images and emotions of its vastness and purity, its freedom and adventure, its calmness and its turbulence in equal measure. Over the millennia, the ocean has been a source of inspiration for poets, novelists, painters, singers, filmmakers and, of course, explorers who pushed well beyond the frontiers of their worlds and knowledge.

With such ageless mystery and beauty, few would associate the ocean with newfangled digital technologies. But they would be dead wrong. Nowadays the ocean bustles with life but also with, yes, digital technology.

Whether for better or for worse, digitalisation has profoundly transformed our world. The ocean – or rather what we do with it – has been no exception. Researchers and entrepreneurs increasingly exploit digital technologies to monitor the ocean, create new business models and, naturally, safeguard the marine environment. The trend is well reflected in recently introduced EMFF-funded projects.

Fishing and fish processing

STARFISH 4.0 has brought an innovative product for monitoring small-scale fisheries. Known as NEMO, this solar-powered device has an Internet of Things communication system and dedicated applications. Little is known about catches of small-scale fisheries, because they are not monitored at the level of large, industrial fishing vessels. This has created significant challenges for sustainable resource management. NEMO is designed to trace small vessels and extend the chain of custody at sea by collecting, recording and transmitting sea-to-shore data, and providing evidence about where and when fish were caught and by whom.

SpecTUNA is working on automating the tuna preparation step prior to canning. Currently the tuna preparation step of extracting loins is done manually, using industrial saws on frozen, bulky and slippery material, at high risk for operators. With SpecTUNA, a bin-picking robotic arm takes each tuna to a cutting module, where loins are extracted. The loins are then analysed with hyperspectral image analysis, obtaining biometric parameters and exerting quality control of each piece with non-destructive methods. Finally, each piece is classified by volume, weight and nutritional characteristics.

MUSSELPRO has introduced a technology to make mussel canning easier and more efficient. It has used advanced imaging technology and AI in developing an innovative cooker and autoclave programmed according to the characteristics of each batch of mussels, resulting in 20% shorter processing cycles, 15% energy savings and 20% higher output.


The growth of the EU shellfish sector has become somewhat stagnant, due to increasing global competition and saturation of areas protected from swell where intensive farming is viable. While EMFF projects can do very little to decrease global competition, they can do a lot in opening new areas for shellfish farming.

OpenMode devised connectable floating modules for intensive farming in open waters. Its integration of remote sensors to adjust for water temperature, weather and parameters reduced operating costs and, through big data analysis, identified the factors affecting harvest growth rates. These floating modules can serve a variety of sectors besides the aquaculture industry. For example, FreShER works on innovative mooring solutions for floating solar panels uses the modules developed by OpenMode in the largest floating photovoltaic farm in the EU: illustrating synergy at its best.

DEMO-BLUESMARTFEED developed and introduced an algorithm to validate an AI-based feed control system in two offshore cages in Spain and Greece. Fish feed is the main production cost for any fish farming company, plus wastes of non-eaten feed reduce fish farming profitability, and increase the waste load in the environment and costs related to the maintenance of the facilities. By studying fish behaviour, the algorithm optimised the process by guiding decisions on how much feed to release.

SMART-HATCHERY approached the feed-control challenge by developing an intelligent centralised feeding system based on cloud computing, Internet of Things and AI, all working toward increasing feeding efficiency, reducing waste and improving water quality.

Offshore wind

The wind turbine market is growing rapidly and will remain a key renewable energy option in the coming decades. Currently, turbine maintenance requires rope access and actually stopping turbines while technicians are working. As a result, maintenance is time- and resource-expensive, and emits significant amounts of CO2. Optimising design, increasing performance rates and reducing maintenance costs of critical components in offshore wind turbines are certainly areas to which digital technologies can contribute.

Aerones is developing a robotic and remotely managed offshore wind turbine maintenance system to make the process more efficient. This means rope access will be no longer required, maintenance will be three to six times faster than the current solutions, turbines will be halted for a shorter time and income loss will be reduced significantly.

DOCC-OFF is introducing a monitoring strategy to reduce the impact of hydraulic pitch system failures on the wind turbine´s design load cases. To do so, the project is developing a digital platform that will capture and manage operating data that can detect and predict potential failure modes.

Underwater archaeology and coastal tourism

Archaeology and modern technology: how the opposites attract.

Lab4Dive developed a device to support underwater archaeologists in surveying, documenting and preserving underwater cultural heritage. This “portable smart lab” is actually a tablet coupled with environmental sensors, a high-resolution camera and an acoustic localization system. Archaeologists can use it to map an area, based on acoustic bathymetry where waypoints are marked, or to show the path followed by a diver – in order to identify which areas were already explored and which still need to be investigated, or to acquire geo-localised notes, photos and environmental data from the available sensors.

ARCHEOSub deployed an underwater sensor network for real-time monitoring and surveillance of archaeological sites. The network comprises low-cost autonomous underwater vehicles and localisation services for divers equipped with underwater tablets.

DiveSafe is devising a system made up of an underwater scooter with high computational capacity, manageable from an underwater tablet with cameras and apps for surveying, navigating and mission planning. It also has a diver localisation system, wearable sensors for breathing/heartbeat and glycaemia monitoring, and an acoustic modem to send data on a diver’s position and health to the surface supply vessel.

Blue RoSES is integrating robotics and Internet of Things into leisure boating. The idea is to enable customers to visit underwater sites by piloting a remotely operated vehicle from a leisure boat, ground control room or web app.

The Black Sea is a sea-basin where tourism sector has been steadily growing, though still facing long-term challenges such as environmental pressures, peak visits in limited areas, poor overall visibility. T4ABS aimed to foster “high-performance data analytics” to boost coastal tourism in the Black Sea. Through a better understanding of current tourism patterns, the project intends to spur innovative services and policies tailored to the region.

Ocean health

Marine litter

LitterDRONE – the name says it all – uses drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and image-analysis software to detect the presence of marine litter along coastlines. The use of drones makes it possible to monitor previously inaccessible.

Marine munitions

BASTA uses smart data integration and AI workflows to detect presence of underwater munitions which constitute a serious safety risk for beach and ocean dwellers.

Ocean observation

Sea water is a medium where data is particularly difficult to collect, merge and analyse. As of today, blue economy stakeholders often rely on inaccurate, human-made inspections, or very expensive solutions originally designed for the oil and gas industry.

SEASAM-AI is striving to make underwater data more easily accessible and exploitable. It relies on a modular drone equipped with AI computing power, a data analysis platform and a mission control application. The project targets market segments with inspections of ship hulls to reduce fouling, aquaculture nets to prevent fish loss, and offshore wind farms to enable frequent and automatized maintenance.

OCEANMET demonstrated the technical and commercial feasibility of a service that generates wave data through a network of buoys equipped with optimised inertial sensors. As new wave-monitoring dedicated buoys are expensive and require costly maintenance, OCEANMET worked instead on optimised inertial sensors that can be installed in existing buoys to rapidly create a network of stations.

The objective of FleetUSV is to bring to an innovative, high-performing, low-cost Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) aimed at the commercial ocean data collection sector. Using a USV removes the risk to human life and reduces carbon emissions considerably.

Other projects

Survey, inspection, maintenance and repair of offshore infrastructure are key activities for the marine industry. They are currently performed by divers and by rather expensive Remotely-Operated Vehicles (ROV) and divers. ESENSE, on the other hand, is working on deploying Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) to replace ROV and divers; this is estimated to cut operating costs by a factor of 10. ESENSE aims to offer its solution for ROVs to equip submarine vehicles already in the market and also to be included in the production of new vehicles.

How green is the logistics of the container industry? Many parameters must be considered when calculating accurate CO2 emissions such as fuel, type of vessel, speed, load, etc. All these parameters make it difficult to design an accurate calculation method. The CO2NTROL project aims to offer a fully integrated end-to-end solution to plan, manage and track shipments with minimal environmental disruption, running from the negotiation of transport options with carriers until compensation of CO2 generated despite all optimisation functionalities.

More info on digitalisation

Project nameStart dateEnd dateTotal budget in €EU contribution in €
Demonstration of an autonomous connected device and digital tools for safety of artisanal fishermen and sustainable management of small-scale fisheries (STARFISH 4.0) 01/12/2019 31/05/2022 1,158,338752,952
Automated modular system for cutting and classifying frozen tuna using hyperspectral characterization (SpecTUNA)01/01/201930/06/20221,719,2351,117,501
Demonstration of an IoT 4.0 mussel processing system for an advanced seafood canning industry (MUSSELPRO)01/11/201930/04/20231,528,781993,708
Demonstration of intensive shellfish farming in OPEN waters with resilient and affordable MODulEs (OpenMode)01/11/201931/10/2021844,967549,228
Floating Solar Energy mooRing: Innovative mooring solutions for floating solar energy (FreShER)01/11/201930/04/20221,091,402709,409
Demonstration project of a smart technology for monitoring the delivery of feed for a sustainable aquaculture (DEMO-BLUESMARTFEED)01/01/201930/09/20221,139,411740,617
Smart Feeding Systems for Hatcheries (SMART-HATCHERY)01/11/201931/10/2021730,475474,808
Offshore Robotic Wind Turbine Blade Care System (AERONES)01/10/202030/09/20232,494,4591,746,121
Digitalization Of Critical Components in OFFshore wind turbines (DOCC-OFF)01/11/201931/10/20211,001,736651,127
Mobile Smart Lab for Augmented Archaeological Dives (Lab4Dive)01/03/201728/02/2019428,821343,058
Autonomous underwater Robotic and sensing systems for Cultural Heritage discovery Conservation and in situ valorization (ARCHEOSub)01/02/201731/01/2019620,815496,652
Cross-sectoral skills for the Blue Economy labor market (ScienceDIVER)01/11/201931/10/20221,059,143847,314
Blue Robotics for Sustainable Eco-friendly Services for innovative marinas & leisure boats (BlueRoSES)01/12/201931/05/20221,042,726834,178
Tourism 4.0 for the Black Sea (T4BS)01/11/201931/12/2021720,333468,215
Development and exploitation of innovative tools for remote marine litter control and management through UAVs (LitterDRONE)01/02/201731/01/2019391,248312,998
Boost Applied munition detection through Smart data inTegration and AI workflows (BASTA)01/12/201930/11/20221,247,046997,637
SEASAM-Autonomous Inspection (SEASAM-AI)01/09/202031/08/20222,273,4341,591,404
Cost-Efficient Oceano-Meteorological Data Service For Reliable Real-Time Information And Marine Forecast (OCEANMET)01/12/201831/03/2021962,048625,332
Future of the Ocean Data Collection Market: Commercialisation of the novel Low-cost, Efficient, High-performing Autonomous Unmanned Surface Vessel (FleetUSV)01/09/202031/08/20222,442,0611,709,443
Breakthrough electromagnetics detection, navigation and characterization (ESENSE)01/09/202131/08/20232,478,3711,734,860
Collaborative platform for shipping container operations to take control of CO2 emissions by route optimisation (CO2NTROL)01/08/202131/07/20233,742,4322,619,702

Useful links

European Digital Twin of the Ocean

Supporting research and innovation in the blue economy

Use of digital age technologies in Coast Guard functions

Blue Cloud