San Diego’s Cottage Industry of Marine Technology Innovation

11/18/09Follow @bvbigelow

Long before San Diego was known as a hub of telecommunications innovation or for its proliferation of biotech companies, it was a leading center for the development of deep underwater technologies.

During the 1960s and ’70s, scientists from the U.S. Navy laboratories on Point Loma and UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography founded numerous startups with technologies derived from underwater sensors, acoustics, and signal processing techniques that had been developed for the Navy’s cat-and-mouse games with Soviet submarines. Robotic technology that the Navy had developed to recover a hydrogen bomb from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea in 1966 led almost directly to the formation of Hydroproducts and Ametek Straza, two companies that made deep ocean ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) in San Diego during the 1970s. Hydroproducts and Ametek Straza faded from San Diego, however, after they were acquired by bigger companies that wanted to introduce ROVs to the offshore oil and gas industry.

It might not be apparent on the surface, but much of that expertise in subsea technologies remains in San Diego today, according to Leonard Pool, who founded Sidus Solutions in 2000 to develop deep underwater pan-and-tilt camera systems and related ROV positioning equipment. Pool, who is moderating a panel discussion today on “marine technology as an important growth industry” for San Diego, says close to 150 companies continue to ply their trade here.

Alvin Diving off California

Alvin Diving off California

“When the U.S. Navy decided that San Diego was going to be a port for submarines, all these companies sprang up,” Pool tells me. “We do get looked at as a cottage industry.” He says these companies have thrived, despite a post-Cold War decline in defense funding for new submarine-hunting technologies. One likely reason, Pool says, is that the “oil and gas community continues to look at San Diego as a hub for subsea technology development.”

Pool’s panel discussion is part of “The Maritime Collaboration Summit,” a two-day conference organized by the Maritime Alliance, a San Diego non-profit industry group, aboard the tourism ship Inspiration Hornblower. The summit, which ends today, is intended to increase awareness of San Diego’s importance as a hub for technology innovation, and to encourage collaboration between the scientific community and commercial maritime innovators, according to Michael B. Jones, president of the Maritime Alliance.

“Right now, the maritime community in San Diego is very fragmented with little visibility or public understanding of its importance,” says Jones, who also heads … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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