Innovative technology centre opening at Oceansgate development

By | December 3, 2018

L – R: Clare Ostle, KEO at MBA; Dr James Fishwick, Head of Operations at WCO; Anna Peachey, PCC; Mel Cass, KEO at MBTC; George Graham, Instrumentation Data Scientist, MBA; Rob Watson, Director, MBTC; Councillor Tudor Evans, Leader of Plymouth City Council; Steve De Mora, Chief Executive of PML; Jodie Williamson, Project Coordinator, MBTC; Patrick Hartop, PCC; Jim Grant, University of Exeter; Steve Rice, KEO at University of Plymouth

A new centre for marine innovation, based at Plymouth’s Oceansgate development, is now up-and-running, thanks to European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding.

The ERDF has granted £2.6 million to fund the Marine Business Technology Centre (MBTC) in Plymouth, which has been developed as a partnership by some of the world’s leading key marine research establishments.

The partnership, led by Plymouth City Council, includes the University of Plymouth, the University of Exeter, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association.

The ERDF funding has been matched by contributions from all the partners, bringing the total investment to £4.5 million, which will enable the MBTC to run for the next three years.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Tudor Evans said: “This is an incredibly exciting initiative and the lynch pin of our Oceansgate development. The MBTC is going to help bridge the gap between research and industry, keeping our marine businesses competitive.

“The organisations that we have based here in Britain’s Ocean City are at the forefront of their fields and the MBTC will give them the edge, ensuring the continuing success of the sector.”

The MBTC will offer specialist innovation support to marine businesses across the region, helping to develop new technology and promote local businesses both nationally and internationally.

Marine Biological Association Director, Professor Willie Wilson, said: “Innovation in marine science and technology is an increasingly important driver for growth. The MBA has always collaborated across sectors and we are delighted to support this initiative to connect research and industry. Commercial applications of the world-class research coming out of Plymouth can only add to prosperity in our region.”

Building on the on- and sub-sea validation range on the Western Channel Observatory (WCO) off Plymouth Sound, the centre will provide industry with access to cutting edge assets and expertise from across the partnership. A new state-of-the-art buoyed platform six miles offshore, and highly sophisticated autonomous vessel and towed vehicles will also be operating in Plymouth waters. This will allow companies and research establishments the opportunity to test prototypes for new maritime technologies including autonomous devices, alternative propulsion, sensors, instruments, and environmental monitoring devices in open water.

This exciting partnership marks another step forward for industry and research organisations in Plymouth to establish the UK Marine Autonomy Range (UK MAR), a validation area aiming to be the first officially endorsed and charted range in the UK.

Dr James Fishwick, Head of Technology and Operations at the WCO said: “Plymouth Marine Laboratory is excited to work as part of the MBTC collaboration to assist innovative companies primarily across Devon but also further afield to develop new marine technologies. The combination of both new and existing assets that will be made available through the project will strengthen Plymouth’s unique offer to industry and aid the formation of the collaborative UK MAR off Plymouth.”

The MBTC will complement key sector strengths and innovation infrastructure across the South West Peninsula, including advanced engineering, marine renewables, big data and aerospace.

Chris Smith, Professor of the University of Exeter said: “The University of Exeter is delighted to be a partner in the Marine Business Technology Centre. The centre represents an exciting step change in support for innovation, product development and research links for marine-sector businesses. We look forward to applying Exeter’s world-class research capabilities to support business innovation and growth ambitions through the project’s dedicated business engagement and research teams.”

Professor Kevin Jones, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Plymouth said: “Through the MBTC, the University of Plymouth continues to work with industry to bring our world-leading research to bear on the challenges facing our world. We are excited to offer companies a new autonomous vessel to provide a cutting edge platform to collaborate with our experts and put new technologies to the test in the marine environment.”

The MBTC has also appointed a director, Rob Watson. Rob was formerly the Head of Business Growth at Hampshire County Council where he led on a number of significant projects, including the establishment of Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup base in Portsmouth and securing private jet manufacturer Gulfstream’s global Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) hub in Farnborough.

Prior to joining the public sector in 2012, Rob spent over 15 years in industry, the majority of which was spent running cyber security operations for US software and hardware manufacturers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Rob said: “I am really pleased to be joining the MBTC team in Plymouth.  I am especially excited to help to drive this transformational project for the city and make the MBTC the centre of marine innovation in the South of England.”

Joining Rob Watson in the MBTC office at Oceansgate is Mel Cass, Knowledge Exchange Officer, and Jodie Williamson, Project Coordinator.

The MBTC will be officially launched on 31 January. During the build up to the launch, a business survey is underway to help establish how the service can be as beneficial to the marine sector as possible. To participate in the survey or attend the launch, contact MBTC@plymouth.gov.uk.