Leading Edge Technology At The Water’s Edge

Massachusetts has a long and well-established reputation for being at the forefront of technological advances. It’s the home of MIT, the birthplace of Facebook and the epicenter of healthcare innovation. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a conference that blended the state’s strength in innovation with its marine heritage. The Marine Technology Society Tech Surge at the UMass Dartmouth Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was an opportunity to show that in this state, innovation extends beyond the shorelines. Attended by representatives from the academic, commercial and military sectors, this year’s event spotlighted innovation in subsea and marine autonomy.

Companies like Bluefin, Xylem, and Riptide displayed models of their AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles) — torpedo-like robotic vehicles that drift, drive, or glide through the ocean to collect critical data that’s used across a broad spectrum of industries. From mapping the ocean floor for oil and gas industries to searching for missing aircrafts like Indonesian Air Flight 8501 several years ago, these vehicles are central to what is being referred to as Blue Tech. Early models were simply towed behind boats. They were replaced by remote controlled devices, which have now been replaced by programmable, autonomous vehicles. The latest advances include “smart” models that react to unexpected changes in the seafloor with curiosity and inquisitiveness similar to that of humans. These vehicles aren’t simply going through a programmed checklist, they’re adapting that checklist on-the-fly.

Of course, the sailor in me couldn’t resist a visit to the Power Docks booth to check out the world’s first mooring buoy with solar power. Another simple, yet brilliant innovation — delivering shore power away from shore using an existing platform that’s there whether you put solar panels on it or not. I resisted the temptation to buy on the spot, but the folks at Power Docks may not have seen the last of me.

Clearly, I’m biased toward anything marine focused, but I have to say that the innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship I saw at the Tech Splash was as impressive as anything I’ve seen on the land. Looking forward to returning next year.