UNSW partnership to build robot boats named Best Australasian Industry Collaboration

13 Nov 2023
Three blue unmanned robot boats on the open ocean

The OCIUS partnership was recognised for its strong focus on student engagement. 

The Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) Australasian Research Commercialisation Awards acknowledge excellence in research commercialisation and its impact on driving economic growth and societal advancement. 

The UNSW/OCIUS partnership, established in 2015, spans collaborative research, co-location and student engagement. OCIUS Technology (OCIUS) is a leading innovator in maritime robotics and machine learning. They develop uncrewed surface vessels (USVs), powered by renewable energy, including solar, wind and wave energy, that can remain at sea for months at a time.  

These ‘robot boats’ cover significant distances and undertake challenging missions, once the domain of crewed vessels. They’re used for diverse applications, from reducing illegal fishing in Australian waters to oceanographic mapping, defence and even protecting whales from deep-sea mining. 

The OCIUS team, most of whom are UNSW alumni, are based at UNSW’s Randwick campus. This allows for close collaboration with UNSW researchers, access to UNSW facilities and equipment, and a range of Higher Degree Research (HDR) and postgraduate student engagement programs.  

OCIUS and UNSW nurture emerging talent through engineering internships, graduate positions and industry projects. Students gain real-world experience, exposure to cutting-edge technologies and a valuable network for their future careers. This student engagement was the driving factor in the partnership receiving the award. 

For example, OCIUS collaborates with the Sovereign Manufacturing Automation for Composites Cooperative Research Centre (SoMAC CRC) located at UNSW and UNSW's School of Mechanical Engineering on their Mechanical Engineering Master’s program.  

White woman with blonde hair and a white man in shirt and trousers; an unmanned blue boat on the ocean
L to R: Julia Frith, Community Manager, Enterpreneurial Campus and Dr Dax Kukulj, Deputy Director of UNSW Knowledge Exchange at the KCA Awards; the Bluebottle USV in operation.

OCIUS has also recently commercialised its Bluebottle USV, which incorporates UNSW research and student-developed technology. The Bluebottle is ‘disruptively inexpensive’, running on three forms of renewable energy, and has operated unescorted for large distances (up to 870 days at sea) in Australia and Japan. 

“The societal impact of OCIUS's work in autonomous maritime systems is evident in Australian waters’ enhanced safety and efficiency,” said Professor Stephen Rodda, UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor Industry and Innovation.  

“The collaboration between OCIUS and UNSW is an example of how academia and industry can come together to drive transformative solutions and societal impact with positive academic and commercial implications.” 

Robert Dane, OCIUS Founder and CEO, said: “The biggest benefit of being with UNSW is the access to students. Then there’s the formal research agreements we’re doing, and the lab and office space we operate the business from. The partnership with UNSW gives us the credibility that comes from working with a world-class university.”   

Dr Tim Boyle, KCA Director and Chair of the 2023 KCA Australasian Research Commercialisation Awards, highlighted the significance of the awards: “The KCA Australasian Research Commercialisation Awards winners are exemplars of top-tier work undertaken by technology transfer and research commercialisation professionals,” he said. 

“In an ever-evolving world, research commercialisation professionals play a pivotal role in ensuring that groundbreaking discoveries are translated into tangible products and services for the benefit of society and the economy.”