Maine Maritime Academy will soon be able to give its cadets hands-on experience with autonomous vessel navigation. In an arrangementment brokered with MARAD and with Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics, MMA's 41-foot workboat Quickwater is currently undergoing a retrofit to receive Sea Machines' SM300 autonomous control system. A remote-operations center will be built on the MMA campus, and students will have the opportunity to take a class incorporating the technology.
As part of the program, a group of MMA marine systems engineering students will be involved with system installation and commissioning. Once the system is up and running, cadets will get to try their hand at operating it in a special course on autonomous vessel technology. They will study how the autonomy system affects the vessel's emissions and efficiency in a variety of sea states, and they'll collect data on how well it performs on situational awareness, predictability and safety of navigation. The first class is scheduled for Fall 2021, according to MMA's Mariner Magazine.
The initiative was brokered by Capt. Jennifer Norwood, assistant professor of marine transportation, who helped create an agreement with Sea Machines and with MARAD's Maritime Environmental and Technical Assistance (META) Program.
“The goal of this initiative is to expand Maine Maritime’s current research portfolio and to provide our students with the opportunity to gain education and training on new ‘smart vessel technology.’ The cutting edge technology will enhance students’ awareness of and use of such systems, which are quickly entering the maritime industry,” said Norwood in a statement. “In addition to supporting our students, we look forward to providing the META Program with the data it needs to understand how advanced marine technologies can impact maritime operations and sustainability.”
Last year, META partnered with Sea Machines and with spill response company MSRC to evaluate the use of a comparable autonomous system aboard a standard 30-foot oil skimming workboat. Spill response is one of several "dull, dirty and dangerous" applications that may benefit most from vessel autonomy, according to its proponents.