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Massachusetts Funds Multi-Million Dollar AUV Testing and Research Center

Dr. James Bellingham director of WHOI’s Center for Marine Robotics announces the grant. Photo courtesy of Jayne Doucette, WHOI.
Dr. James Bellingham, director of WHOI’s Center for Marine Robotics, announces the grant. (Photo courtesy of Jayne Doucette, WHOI.)

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has received a $5 million grant toward a new center to test and research marine robots, including AUVs. The new facilities will include a rapid prototyping center, advanced pressure test facility, indoor robotic test tank facility, and an in-ocean test environment. Grant money will also go toward applied research, product development and novel testing activities.

“Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Center for Marine Robotics brings together two of the Commonwealth’s most influential economic sectors — maritime and innovation — to reinvigorate a major driver in our economy,” said Senate President Therese Murray. “The collaboration between researchers, government, business and academia will surely result in exciting advances and discoveries.”

The five-year grant award is being made as part of the Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Program, managed by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.  State funds will be met with a 3-1 match, bringing the project’s total to over $20 million.

The grant will also extend partnerships with leading academic institutions, including MIT’s Aeronautics-Astronautics Department and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Students from Cape Cod Community College will also benefit from the new facilities, as they will get to pilot vehicles in the Indoor Robotic Test Tank Facility.

“Research institutions such as WHOI and MIT have helped spur the development of leading companies in the marine robotics space and we believe that the addition of this world-class facility will help keep Massachusetts on the cutting edge of this emerging industry,” stated Pamela Goldberg, CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

According to a study from Douglas-Westwood, deployed AUV systems are will grow by 42 percent in the next four years. Massachusetts is already a major player in the field, with three leading AUV companies currently located in the state. Two of these firms are spin offs of research conducted at WHOI: Hydroid Inc., Teledyne Webb Research. The third — Bluefin Robotics — spun out of MIT’s AUV lab in the late nineties.

“This award builds on WHOI’s pioneering work creating teleoperated and autonomous marine vehicles,” said Dr. James Bellingham director of WHOI’s Center for Marine Robotics and Bluefin co-founder. “Our goals are to foster a thriving marine robotics industry and apply new robotic technologies to great science challenges of our age.  These new facilities for fabrication and testing will accelerate the creation and fielding of new robotic systems.”