Japan: Underwater drone maker Ambient Intelligence secures backing from Beyond Next Ventures

Robot working on underwater infrastructure.

Ambient Intelligence Technology, a Japanese startup venture that develops and manufactures underwater drones, has secured a JPY 190 million ($1.83 million) investment in a round led by Beyond Next Ventures.

Other investors participating in the round include Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital, SMBC Venture Capital, and Freebit Investment.

Ambient Intelligence Technology offers drones for maintaining and managing underwater infrastructure. It aims to commence drone rentals by November 2017, as well as initiate sales by Spring 2018. The company said it will use the investment proceeds to accelerate business growth.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Shohei Ito and Chairman Yasushi Nakauchi, the firm’s principle focus is developing and manufacturing underwater drones that can operate for prolonged periods at depths of 300 metres.

Typical diving professionals operate at depths of 40 metres, while Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are deployed at deeper depths but tend to be more costly and complex to operate and maintain.

One domain that the company is seeking to enter is the dam and port maintenance, given that the operators of such infrastructure wish to enhance maintenance and management procedures to improve their service lives.

The market for underwater robotics is growing. An August 2016 report by Accuray Research predicts that the global Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) market is poised to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of around 12.2 per cent over the next decade to a capitalisation of approximately $7.25 billion by 2025.

This growth can be attributed to the increased demand for underwater drones in commercial applications, such as surveys and seabed mapping, offshore drilling, and pipeline inspection.

North America is estimated to account for the largest share of the unmanned underwater vehicles market in 2017, due to the rising incidences of terrorism and increasing offshore drilling activities in the region, while Africa will see the highest growth due to rising oil & gas exploration activities undertaken by countries such as South Africa and Nigeria.

One of the products that Ambient Intelligence is releasing next year is the underwater drone Spider, which has eight thrusters and can be connected to a terminal on a mother vessel by a single tether cable.

Operated by a game pad, it can dive down to 300 metres and has a battery life estimated at four hours; its major advantage is its software, which features automated depth/attitude control and computer vision-based position holding functions for the drone body, allowing it to maintain position in strong water currents.

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