Centre to build underwater robots could be given green light

A MARS underwater craft

A MARS underwater craft

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Political reporter

PLANS for a state-of-the-art new centre in Southampton to build cutting edge underwater robots could be given the green light today.

The National Oceanography Centre’s (NOC) plans for a new innovation centre will go before the city council’s planning committee this evening.

If approved, the NOC in European Way, which is part of the University of Southampton, would be extended to contain the new facilities.

They would be used to build a fleet of 40 Marine Autonomous and Robotics Systems (MARS), similar to the underwater craft currently being used to search for the missing MH370 aircraft in the Indian Ocean.

The vessels, partly funded by a Government grant through the Eight Great Technologies initiative, will allow for new MARS vessels to be developed.

MARS robots can be used to explore some of the ocean’s most inhospitable regions, and in recent years have provided invaluable evidence of habitats that scientists would otherwise not be able to get to.

They would be used by both the university, as part of maritime research projects, and businesses within the Solent and international maritime industries.

The new centre, which is expected to open in spring next year if planning permission is granted, is likely to be a catalyst to create jobs within the companies collaborating with the NOC and using its facilities, the NOC said.

The Goverment-backed Natural Environment Research Council, which part-funds the NOC, is investing £3m in the project.

A spokesman for the NOC said: “This exciting development will cement NOC’s position as a UK leader in marine autonomous systems.

“The MARS Innovation Centre will provide specialist engineering and test facilities to enhance co-operation between academia and small and medium enterprises for the advancement of autonomous technologies to accelerate business growth and to provide new capabilities for marine science.

“By developing the innovation centre specifically for this market, the NOC will be well placed to ensure that marine science applications remain at the heart of this fast-growing and exciting field of technology.”

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