SOUTHAMPTON is leading the way in undersea robot technology – a lucrative sector of the “blue economy”.

A £3million centre to develop new technology for the growing marine robotics sector was officially opened by universities minister Jo Johnson at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) this week.

The Marine Robotics Innovation Centre will be a hub for businesses and scientists developing technology to capture data from the depths of the world's oceans.

Kevin Forshaw, associate director at the NOC said: “Globally, this sector is worth some £9billion and is growing with the UK leading the way.

“Innovations in marine robotics are driving down the cost of our marine research and are helping us to make sense of the rapidly changing ocean environment. These opportunities also extend to other sectors that operate in the ocean, for example, asset inspection and marine surveys for oil and gas, defence, marine renewable industries, and emerging sectors such as carbon capture and storage - all of which require a cost-effective way to get sensors to the right place to gather the information that they need."

The centre has been operational since the summer and is already home to a number of companies including Planet Ocean Ltd, ASV Ltd and Seebyte Ltd.

There have also been a number of collaborations with organisations that include Steatite Ltd, OXIS Energy Ltd, MSubs Ltd. Kongsberg Ltd, Fugro GEOS Ltd, Sonardyne International Ltd, , MOST Ltd, Teledyne Technologies, the Royal Navy, Defra, Dstl, Cefas, British Geological Survey, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Universities of Southampton and Exeter.

The new centre is funded through the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) using money from the Science Minister's 'Eight Great Technologies' initiative.

Mr Forshaw added: “We have a culture of innovation at NOC and over two decades of experience developing marine sensors and autonomous vehicles for underwater research. The Innovation Centre will build on this and act as an international hub for the marine technology community linking new applications with opportunities in the market place.”

The (NOC) is also partner in a new £2.5m centre for training PHD students in the use of marine robotic systems to monitor everything from erupting volcanoes to algal blooms in the ocean.

NEXUSS (Next Generation Unmanned Systems Science) will focus on robots and sensors, which can be used remotely to monitor climate change, deep-sea exploration, and identification of biodiversity ‘hotspots’.

The fleet of marine robots based at the NOC is now one of the most advanced in the world and it is hoped it will attract top students to the centre.

This project is being led by the University of Southampton, and also involves the British Antarctic Survey, Heriot-Watt University, University of East Anglia, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science. NEXUSS, which will provide training for up to 30 students from September 2016, has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).