Smart Ships Coalition Launched

Autonomous Watercraft
Autonomous Watercraft
Great Lakes Research Center personnel lower an autonomous watercraft into the water at the GLRC dock, Aug. 10. The vessel was used as a demonstration during the launch of the Smart Ships Coalition and Marine Autonomy Research Site (MARS).

Michigan Technological University's Great Lakes Research Center was the site for the unveiling of the Marine Autonomy Research Site (MARS)–the first freshwater testbed of its kind in the world–Friday, Aug. 10.

Watch Marine Autonomous Test Site Launched video
Preview image for Marine Autonomous Test Site Launched video

Marine Autonomous Test Site Launched

The unveiling of MARS was held in conjunction with the launch of the Smart Ships Coalition, designed to study and set ground rules for the use of autonomous marine vehicles on the Great Lakes. The coalition is made up of scientists, policy makers, resource managers, innovators, navigators and educators that share a common interest in the advancement of autonomous technologies in marine environments.

Representatives of many of the coalition's partners were on hand for Friday's launch ceremony, hosted by Guy Meadows, director of the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC). Meadows said autonomous marine vehicles are the future and "we get to set the future."

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman said, "This center puts us on the cutting edge. And if you're not on the cutting edge, you're behind."

Among the coalition's partner organizations is the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Governors and Premieres, chaired by Governor Rick Snyder. The group's Executive Director David Naftzger said, "Shipping will look different in 25 years. Largely because of the work done here."

Also participating in the launch were Michigan Tech President Richard Koubek; Jon Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes; State Senator Tom Casperson; State Representative Scott Dianda; Kevin Kohlmann, director of the Office of Safety, U.S. Maritime Administration; Bruce Kelly, policy advisor for Transport Canada; Lt. Abbie Lyons, U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit, Station Duluth and representatives from the offices of Governor Rick Snyder and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabinow and Gary Peters.

Putting research into practice

Travis White (GLRC) explained how autonomous marine vehicles are already being used. His Houghton company, Pro Nav Marine, manufactures a buoy used for sailboat racing. "It uses GPS and satellite technology, so not only can the buoy be remotely placed to change a race course, it can also remain stationary without an anchor."

Following the launch ceremony, there was a live demonstration of state-of-the-art autonomous marine technologies and opportunities to tour the GLRC.

The MARS test-bed will allow collaborations between technology developers, university researchers, resource managers and industry to meet the future challenges in marine technology development, application and workforce creation. MARS is the first freshwater site of its kind in the world.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.