Wanna test a new drone prototype? Just do it on your rooftop. What about a robot? You can test it in a lab. How about a new car? All it takes is an empty road. What about a boat or a ship? Well, now you need an entire dedicated water site.
Naval research is seriously limited because of the lack of water sites that are dedicated to research purposes. Any group of engineering college students can prototype a drone, a bike or a car and test the prototype without using a dedicated site; or even if a site is needed, it is very convenient to find a driving site or a park to test cars and drones. With ships and boats, this gets problematic.
To address the said problem in a way, many countries that need Naval research strictly for military activities have dedicated ocean sites for their Naval forces. While this is effective for Naval research, it leaves very small room for civilian research in the Naval or Maritime department strictly because of the lack of dedicated research sites.
Recently, however, Michigan University has launched a Naval site dedicated not for mechanical research in the Maritime department; but focused on autonomous Naval research. That is to say, Michigan University is dedicating an entire research site simply for facilitating researchers in innovating and improving the vehicles of the sea so that they can sail themselves, protecting the people aboard, the material and cargo loaded and protecting the ship from potential damage at the sea. But the primary focus of the research site is to conduct Maritime research, researching underwater beds and the pattern of waves at different depths of a water site.
Located on Lake Superior’s Portage Canal in the Upper Peninsula city, the Maritime Autonomy Research Site is the first freshwater testing spot of its kind in the world, according to the officials working initiating the facility.
At the same time as the announcement for the launch of Michigan University’s Maritime Autonomy Research facility, officials announced the Smart Ships Coalition. It includes scientists, policymakers, navigators, educators and others from around the Great Lakes looking to develop guidelines for conducting research with autonomous boats.
“It’s emblematic of the ability of our faculty to be able to bring together a coalition of government agencies and groups and individuals around autonomous maritime research,” said Richard Koubek, president of Michigan Technological University. “It’s truly a distinction that sets Michigan Tech apart. But also the fact that we have this facility to do it in.”
At the facility based in Michigan, the coalition will include a variety of parties, including scientists, policymakers, navigators and other entities interested in developing ways for research boats to operate unmanned.
These parties would perform tasks such as surveying lake bottoms, as well as scientific activities that would be “expensive, difficult or even dangerous for humans to do.”
With no crew onboard, a craft could go out in conditions that would preclude a manned trip. The event included the demonstration of a one-third-scale model of a swarming boat, which will be able to work in conjunction with other vehicles and assess wave fields to choose how to maneuver in choppy waters.