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Corporate Member Spotlight – Dredge Robotics

Dredge Robotics create unique robotic solutions that deliver significant savings and Antony Old, CEO of Dredge Robotics discussed the importance of water, robotics, and innovative solutions with Water Source.

Tell us all about Dredge Robotics

Originally our business, Fremantle Commercial Diving, was centered around supporting the water industry and the mining industry. Most of our diving that we undertook was not in the oceans, it was in water tanks and storage reservoirs, lined ponds etc and it was very much to do with the cleaning and maintenance of those assets. We operated as a diving company for over 20 years, became very skilled at this type of work and a recognised leader in this field.

In 2016, we started looking at the necessity to put humans underwater into these high-risk environments and we decided that we would undertake a global desktop study to try and find world leading technology to start replacing the human element. We travelled quite extensively to Europe and the Americas, and we ended up buying robots. Essentially, we went to every manufacturer that was making them and we said we'll have one of every single robot which was a pretty expensive couple of weeks.

We brought them all into Australia and we trialled them extensively with a couple of our key clients. We tested them against a lot of metrics that are important especially when you're cleaning drinking water tanks, and unfortunately they all failed fairly miserably, and to make matters worse, their manufacturers didn't really want to know about it.

Eventually, we decided to have a crack at building our own robots in-house and we built a tank cleaning machine that absolutely blew the doors off the metrics of anything else we had purchased. That became the start of Dredge Robotics, which was actually originally branded as Watertight Robotics.

Image 1 - Dredge Robotics - Potable-Grade Cleaning Robot-2

Tell us a little bit more about your career history, how did you get involved in robotics?

I studied aquatic science at the University of Tasmania and had a graduate job at a salmon farm in the south of Tasmania. I fell into commercial diving as part of that job requirement and then continued in the field working for several large diving companies before moving to Fremantle Commercial Diving where I started in 2006. Alongside the other Directors, I helped expand the business into new areas of specialised services including robotics.

I don't have a background in robotics, but I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of very clever people who can do amazing things in that field. We're also fortunate that all founders of Dredge Robotics have a background of spending many hours dredging manually and working underwater which provides a good appreciation and foundational understanding of the overall process.

Image 2 - Dredge Robotics Liner-Safe Non-Potable Robot

Do you have any big plans for the future of Dredge Robotics?

Yes, probably too many! We’re currently investing a lot of resources building much larger robots for very niche applications aimed primarily at the mining industry.   Some of these robots are multi-million dollar builds and around the size of a small car, so we're moving more into that large-scale industrial space and also exporting our services overseas to markets in South-East Asia.

Image 3 - Dredge Robotics - Robot Development

What has been a particular favourite project within Dredge Robotics?

That’s a hard question to answer, we do some pretty crazy things with robots and we put them into some very nasty environments to do things that simply weren’t possible before we invented this technology. We have a few gold mining clients where we're able to put our machines into parts of their gold refining system that are otherwise largely inaccessible to scavenge gold out as part of a dredging process.  By doing this we are able to return very significant quantities of gold to those clients so that the dredging operation becomes a revenue stream for them. We never actually intended for this to be an application of our technology, it's just one of those unique spin-off type benefits that we are able to offer our clients. 

Thinking ahead for the future, are you concerned for advancements in technologies whether it be artificial intelligence or sentient robotics?

Our robots are designed to do quite aggressive tasks in a very controlled way, but we have an incredible amount of safety measures in place to protect people on site. In terms of AI, we have some very smart roboticists and technologists internally, they're always playing around with the AI space and it’s advancing very rapidly. I tend to think about the AI applications and potential with an ever changing balance of excitement and apprehension, but it certainly will bring a lot of changes to almost all industries in the next few years.

Image 4 - Dredge Robotics - Robot Operators

What advice do you have for Young Water Professionals?

I used to Co-Chair the Water Quality Specialist Network Committee for AWA for a few years so getting involved in networks like that is good if you want to get into the water space, and the water sector is an interesting one because people tend to get in it and then they're very fiercely in it, and it becomes their lifelong career. My advice is look for ways to understand the status quo and then once you understand it challenge it with new technology and new ideas.

It's a great sector to work in and it comes with its challenges in some of the constraints that the water sector has but it's also got plenty of opportunity on that side as well.

Image 5 - Dredge Robotics - Robotic Personnel

Final thoughts?

Dredge Robotics is evolving to be one of those Australian success stories in an unlikely sector. I'm taking my commercial team to Las Vegas in September for the world’s biggest mining Expo, MINExpo International, which feels like a very far cry from where we were even 5 years ago. Our business has always been one of those ‘chase the dream’ kind of organisations and as we continue to expand I can’t wait to see where we are in another 5 years’ time!