Behind the mechanical design work of a innovative Nanaimo-based robotics company there stands a Ladysmith man.
And that company has been recognized by the Mid-Island Science Technology and Innovation Council (MISTIC).
Seamor Marine Ltd. won the 2012 MISTIC Innovation Award for Emerging Product at the MISTIC Innovation Awards gala Nov. 2.
Seamor manufactures underwater inspection-class Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and modules, which are used around the world for underwater inspection tasks and a range of applications, such as taking photographs of the ocean floor, inspecting hydro dams and underwater pipelines, locating shipwrecks and scrutinizing potable water tanks.
Seamor received the award for its newest product, a hydraulic arm that can go on the bottom of the Seamor ROVs and modules.
“We build underwater vehicles; the arms can go on the bottom of the vehicle so you can do sampling underwater,” explained Patrick Johnston of Ladysmith, who is a mechanical engineering designer.
Johnston and Harry Lam, who no longer works for Seamor, designed the hydraulic arm in nine weeks at the end of last year, and Johnston says they got all the bugs worked out by March. Johnston did the mechanical design work, while Lam did the electrical work.
“It was pretty cool,” said Johnston.
“We were here quite a lot,” he added, laughing.
Johnston has been working for Seamor for about four years and has been in the robotics industry for about 10 years, and he says he enjoys the variety that comes with his job.
“It’s kind of different every day,” he said.
Johnston studied at Camosun College in Victoria, and when he completed his schooling, he was offered a job at Inuktun Services in Nanaimo, which does robotics as well.
Johnston’s wife Sarah worked in Duncan, and they were looking for a place to live. Although they had never been here, they settled on Ladysmith, and they are now raising two young boys in town.
“We fell in love with the town,” said Johnston. “It’s perfect for the kids.”
Johnston worked for Inuktun for a few years and worked on the Seamor ROV while with the company.
Johnston left Inuktun, and started his own company, doing mechanical design for three or four years. During that time Seamor Marine Ltd. formed as a company and purchased the underwater ROV system, Seamor and related intellectual property from Inuktun. About a year after Seamor formed, Johnston joined the company.
The Seamor ROV is used in many countries.
“We’ve got these things pretty much all over the world now,” said Johnston. “We’ve probably got about 80 of them out now.”
Johnston says there are about seven Seamor ROVs on Vancouver Island right now. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Campbell River has a couple, while the Nanaimo Port Authority has one, and there are some marine biologists on the Island who use the Seamor ROV.
The Seamor ROV has been used for many interesting tasks, and in 2010, Defence Research and Development Canada used two Seamor ROVs in the Arctic to help in underwater survey work.
“They were doing a project up in the Arctic, kind of defining the borders of Canada and used our vehicles,” said Johnston. “They were trying to find out where the continents ended and who owned what.”