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The UK Seafood Innovation Fund (SIF) with additional support from the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), has promoted a new digital platform inspired by virtual reality technology used in subsea energy to enhance the health and safety of divers on fish farms.

The project is led by researchers at the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), operated by the University of Strathclyde. SIF has recently awarded it with around £50,000.

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Thereby, the system will use underwater 3D scanning with images captured by remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). This will create a virtual replica of a seafood farm, supporting divers to plan activities of entering the water.

To sum up, divers will be able to use a mobile, tablet, or even a VR headset to gain a better understanding of the fish farm environment. The digital model can help them to assess the difficulty of the dive, and maintenance and cleaning requested. Also, whether any additional equipment is needed underwater.

NMIS is working with Ocean Kinetics and Viewport 3. The first is a provider of diving services to a range of sectors including aquaculture, energy, and renewables. The second, specialists in subsea 3D scanning that create a test platform based on a Scottish Sea Farms site in Shetland.

Awais Munawar, visualization theme lead – digital factory at NMIS, said: “3D scanning and VR technology is already used in many industries. Such as aerospace and energy, and there could be a significant opportunity for aquaculture to follow. Of course, there are also challenges to overcome, which is the purpose of this feasibility study. For instance, fish farms are not fixed structures, in the way that many oil platforms are. The environment can be quite different depending on the location and depth of the water.”

How the subsea technology can help aquaculture

Diving is one of the most complex and dangerous roles in aquaculture. As it is still undertaken manually. But the new digital planning tool could boost health and safety in a range of ways. With better access to information ahead of a dive, it could reduce the time needed in the water, and support a better understanding of new or unfamiliar sites. Furthermore, identify additional training or support needs.

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For seafood producers, it could also enhance the efficiency of maintenance programs. Along with the images captured by ROVs identifying issues. Such as the presence of marine growth ahead of divers going underwater. More streamlined dive schedules could also reduce interaction with fish.

Finally, Sarah Riddle, director of innovation and engagement at SAIC, said: “This is a great example of how the aquaculture sector can work together with experts in subsea technology, and manufacturing. Also, with other industries to learn from best practices and accelerate digital transformation. Designed specifically for seafood producers, the new tool could support training, maintenance, inspections, and even environmental monitoring. Helping to future-proof the sector as it continues to grow.”

In August, the SIF also funded Rare Earth Global, growers of industrial hemp for a range of sustainable products, to integrate hemp seeds into the diets of farmed salmon in Scotland.

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