Alphabet’s X announces Tidal to ‘protect the ocean and feed humanity sustainably’

Notable X projects include self-driving cars, delivery drones, and internet balloons. Alphabet’s Moonshot Factory is now taking another stab at helping the environment with Tidal —  a “moonshot to protect the ocean and feed humanity sustainably.”

In forming Tidal, the team at X identified pressing ocean pollution issues from there “soon be[ing] more plastic than fish in the sea” to acidification killing corals and other aquatic life. At risk is Earth’s natural carbon sink and resource that provides food and livelihoods for billions.

This is driving upheaval in ecosystems all over the world, from coral reefs to the Arctic, leading to chain reactions of damage that are threatening human food and economic security.

This “critical issue” comes to a head with unsustainable fishing practices, and how fish — with their low carbon footprint — “play a critical role in feeding 3 billion people.” However, conservation is hampered by how humans “don’t know much about what’s going on under the water.”

Even though it covers around 70% of the planet, most of it remains unexplored. We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the deepest parts of the ocean floor. This is partially because it’s an incredibly challenging environment for technology. The pressure is crushing, communication is extremely difficult (GPS and WiFi don’t work underwater!), and saltwater kills electronics, which makes long-term monitoring challenging.

Tidal wants to “protect the ocean and preserve its ability to support life and help feed humanity, sustainably.” The most immediate task is “developing technologies that bring greater visibility and understanding of what’s happening under the water.”

We decided to start working on a small corner of this problem: exploring new tools that could provide useful information to fish farmers looking for environmentally friendly ways to run and grow their operations.

Over the past three years, X has been talking to fish farmers around the world that want to minimize waste and reduce chemical usage. Tidal has developed an underwater camera system that leverages machine perception to “detect and interpret fish behaviors not visible to the human eye.”

Our software can track and monitor thousands of individual fish over time, observe and log fish behaviors like eating, and collect environmental information like temperature and oxygen levels. This kind of information gives farmers the ability to track the health of their fish and make smarter decisions about how to manage the pens — like how much food to put in the pens, which we hope can help reduce both costs and pollution.

As Tidal makes new discoveries and validates its technology, it hopes to branch out into other related fields and problems.

This is the latest project from X dealing with the environment, though the parent company has a somewhat mixed track record. Alphabet most recently pulled funding from X graduate Makani working on energy kites, while Malta energy storage and Dandelion geothermal energy have been spun off.

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Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: