Can Robotic Fish Save Our Seas?


According to Aquaai's CEO, Liane Thompson and her husband, Simeon Pieterkosky, Chief Visionary Officer, robotic fish are going to save our seas. What started out as a promise to his daughter grew into a company that creates aquatic platforms designed to beautify and clean waterways. Their Aquaai (Aquaai + AI) lab sits in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Monterey Bay, an ideal location for a marine robotic company dedicated to saving the seas.

When Liane heard about an inventor who had built two-meter tall humanoid robots all by himself she had decided to meet the impassioned South African from Cape Town. In her previous life, she was a former journalist and executive producer with The New York Times, and had met a lot of Hi-Tech entrepreneurs while working in Israel.

Aquaai recently returned from the aquaculture trials in Norway at Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett AS, Norway. The sustainable salmon farm supplies salmon to Whole Foods and about eight percent of the salmon import to the US. Kvarøy are also known to be leaders in adopting aquaculture technology and they want to be the first with our fishlike drone, pre-ordering a handful of platforms. Read on to learn more about how Simeon and Liane are going to save our seas.

1. What does a former journalist and executive producer from The New York Times think about robotic fish saving our seas?

Having covered some pretty awful events in my lifetime, I think being a founder in a robotic fish company aimed at Saving the Seas, is a wonderful second career. While robotics is super exciting now, bio-mimicry in robotics is the tip of the excitement iceberg. And using such innovative technology for positive social and environmental impact is especially rewarding.

2. When did you first meet Simeon (Pieterkosky), builder of two-meter-tall humanoid robots and the robotic fish?

We first met in Israel in 2010. I had heard of him and his inventions. Initially, we connected on Facebook and then we met face to face. The rest is, as they say…history.

3. You wrote that Simeon was an impassioned South African from Cape Town, who was inspired by his then 8-year-old daughter, to save the seas. How will this new drone technology save the seas?

When Simeon's daughter came to him, he already had been studying for years the effects of climate change. He knew only systems that could withstand rougher seas from superstorms would be viable in the future. Our low maintenance, flexible platform, is reliable in such conditions. As for Saving the Seas, we gather data, which our customers use to improve environmental sustainability.

In the case of aquaculture, we just completed successfully our trials in Norway at the sustainable salmon farm Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett, AS. Our Nammu (named after the goddess of the sea) fish-bot immersed with the live salmon and gathered data as she swam in the pens. Providing real-time data helps the farm improve feeding practices, and having the ability to watch fish behavior up close offers the potential to ensure overall better health of the stock, which in turn is good for the marine environment.

4. You were named one of the 17 US Blue Tech Companies to Watch in 2017, chosen for innovative ocean technologies and export potential, which may help increase US exports and create jobs. What types of jobs, and how many new jobs might be expected?

Knowing we needed to hire people with considerable ocean knowledge, we moved from Silicon Valley to San Diego to grow Aquaai. San Diego is a major Blue Tech hub, there's a lot of talent coming from UCSD, Scripps and the Navy, and thanks to entities like The Maritime Alliance, and we've met some wonderful people involved in the Ocean Economy here. However, our initial target market is aquaculture, as you know, and unfortunately, the US still lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to recognizing the potential of that industry. In fact, most of the interest we've received - be that customer or investment – comes from abroad. Our first customers are out of Norway, major producers of salmon, so we may open an Aquaai office there in the coming months.

5. It's no secret that our world is on an unsustainable path. American ecologist, biologist and science writer, Jared Diamond's book: “Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed," offers Easter Island as a chilling example of where our planet is headed, going as far as to say that “Easter Island is Earth Writ Small." Do you agree with Diamond's assessment?

Yes, overpopulation is an issue but consumerism, in particular, is what I think is threatening our very existence. The constant buy buy buy is a waste waste waste. I've stopped always buying new. My way is to try to buy used or refurbished first, be they clothes, computers or such. Of course having a startup helps support this mindset. But yes, I believe we as a society must put the brakes on and stop this over consumption, this obsession with buying.

6. How long did creating the eco-friendly bio-inspired fish-like drone take?

My partner Simeon studied fish movement for a couple of years before he began building his first fish. We founded Aquaai in August of 2014 and our first purchase was a 3D printer. I always say we have two 3D printers going in the lab at any given moment. We've built four prototypes, improving each time. Simeon has gotten really fast and can now build one in about 10 days.

7. Aquaai recently returned from the aquaculture trials in Norway. How did that go? Did this lead to new clients, such as Kvaroy?

The trials were very successful. Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett AS is a wonderful fish farm, leading the way in sustainable aquaculture. The company is family ran and the brothers all share an absolute love for the ocean. We were very fortunate to pilot with them. I actually saw a documentary on Frontline – The Fish on My Plate – where they were featured and I reached out, cold emailed. Once they saw our fish robot, they were like, “this is the coolest thing we've seen" and from then forward the relationship grew to a partnership. It was great to finally meet in Norway and throw our Nammu in their pens. And once she swam and the salmon accepted her, yes they ordered a handful of platforms. We've just launched our next raise; our seed round so we can deliver. Plus, we plan to return to Norway to hold industry demos in the spring.

8. How widespread do you and Simeon expect this new technology to impact worldwide sustainability?

We can become a global monitoring system by swimming in many industries in multiple locations gathering data. If you look at air drones, which are everywhere now, image 10 years ago there were only a few. The same for water drones, in 10 years there will be many.

Mother Nature got it right, so we believe that our platform will swim in many industries from disaster relief, coastal flooding where we can maneuver around debris and collect environmental and visual data, scientific research- we've been asked to make a grouper fish by someone from Smithsonian and a shark for shark conservationists in South Africa.

Ports, as well as the oil and gas industry, have approached us and we are talking to coral reef conservationists and the company Coral Vita that is building coral reefs. Our platforms fit within various industries ideal from a cost point, functionality and maintenance perspective. The data is valuable not only for the customer, but for scientific research globally and it perhaps one day as an ocean data blockchain.

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
5min read

Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."