Venturing into the unknown is a natural compulsion for homo sapiens. From climbing Everest to exploring Mars, to probing the vastness of space with telescopes, our species is driven by curiosity, and the potential for financial gain, to evolve technologies that enable us to master space, time, and distance. Among the most technically challenging and potentially rewarding areas that remain tantalizingly out of reach are the depths of the oceans.
Adam Gobi intends to change that.
Gobi is the president and CEO at SULIS Subsea Corporation, developing leading-edge subsea cameras and robotics technology. The company was launched as a result of Gobi’s PhD research and his experience working with famed-director and explorer James Cameron on a project called DEEPSEA CHALLENGE. That project built and sent a manned underwater vehicle 11 kilometres down into the deepest water on earth, the Mariana Trench between Japan and New Guinea.
“At the deepest point, it’s quite barren, yet there is still life to be found,” says Gobi. “During our series of test dives … we went progressively deeper so we got to see some spectacular seascape including the New Britain Trench, eight kilometres down.”
The crew discovered nearly 70 new species. “There’s so much beautiful life down there: we found new species of jellyfish, octopus, eelpout, and many others… We collected these giant amphipods: shrimp-like organisms nearly a foot long, and ten times bigger than anyone had ever seen before,” Gobi says.
Gobi began his expedition after completing an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the Dalhousie University and a master’s in computer engineering at the University of Alberta. For his PhD at Memorial University in St. John’s he was focusing on how to automatically survey sea life using camera systems, when his studies took him to the University of Sydney Australia and into the Deepsea Challenger project.
The 18 months he spent in Australia was the longest stretch Gobi had ever been away from his native Newfoundland, and he couldn’t wait to return. “I got back here with a lot of energy to start a company and combine my PhD work with my background from Deepsea Challenger,” he says.
While Newfoundland and Labrador is Gobi’s favourite place to live and work, he never thought he would get the opportunity to do so. Raised in Grand Falls-Windsor in Central Newfoundland, Gobi grew up in the wake of a groundfisheries collapse.
“I was 10 or 11, and the fallout from the collapse didn’t leave much hope for a career on the island. We all seemed to be destined for the mainland, whether we liked it or not,” Gobi says while sipping a cappuccino in a trendy café in the now-booming metropolitan centre of St. John’s. “What’s amazing is it’s now one of the best places in the world start an ocean technology company. It’s a total 180 from when I was a kid: not only is it doable here, but it’s one of the best places in the world [for ocean technology].”
He describes the industry as a collaborative one, where everyone is working together to make Newfoundland and Labrador the hub of ocean excellence.
“I wanted to create a company that walked the line between commercial entity and research organization. While we will continue to seek commercial success, our principal mission to conduct world-class R&D, and contribute to the local ocean technology cluster.” In this province, the cluster is led by OceansAdvance Inc.
These days Gobi and his team are working on what he considers to be the ideal project: designing the imaging systems for the world’s most advanced robotic undersea research vehicle. The project is being run by the Schmidt Ocean Institute created by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and his wife, to make deep ocean research tools more accessible for researchers worldwide.
While that system will be unmanned, Gobi admits he is most passionate about manned submersibles. “I’m still trying to find a ticket into a submarine,” he says. “I want to get down there myself and explore the unkown, and I think that’s partly what drives my career; making that dream happen by working close to the ocean industry.”
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