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Brunswick aids marine robotics research at MIT

Brunswick Corp. is helping the Massachusetts Institute of Technology research marine robotics.

“On road” applications are not the only mode of transportation facing significant change because of autonomous control systems. For the past several years MIT, through its Marine Autonomy Bay facility and affiliated programs, has been conducting extensive research into marine robotics and how they may be applied to boating.

MIT recently received a Boston Whaler 250 Outrage, powered by twin 250-hp Mercury Marine Verado outboard engines, which the school will use during the next several years to help further conduct its research. The boat features Mercury’s joystick piloting to assist with close-quarters maneuvering.

Research thus far has focused on the Charles River, but the Boston Whaler will allow MIT to do additional work in nearby Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay, providing a larger, open-water environment in which to conduct its research.

“Controls and digital connectivity have been rapidly progressing in pleasure boating in recent years,” Brunswick chief technology officer David Foulkes said in a statement. “The work that MIT is doing in both autonomous and semi-autonomous systems and capabilities for marine applications is highly intriguing. The potential advances in such areas as navigation, marine controls, sensory capabilities and ultimately improving boating safety and enjoyment are most compelling.”

During a recent media event Foulkes told Trade Only that Mercury is continuing to explore ways to bring autonomy to boating.

“We’ll keep adding technology to the joystick, molds, active trim, and look at how far we can go in making boating more autonomous,” Foulkes said. “If you look at the automotive world, there’s a stretchy goal of total automation, but they’re progressively adding more autonomous features” and that will be Mercury’s goal going forward, as well.

The primary focus of MIT’s Marine Autonomy Bay’s work is on technology applied to commercial marine vessels. The work also includes underwater communication, sensing of the marine environment, detection and sensing of man-made objects and other vessels and navigation and localization capabilities that also will apply to recreational applications.

The program is led by MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and supported by the school’s Laboratory for Autonomous Marine Sensing Systems, the Marine Robotics Group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the MIT Sea Grant Program, with support from other resources unique to MIT.

“We are thrilled to join with Brunswick to accelerate our work in marine autonomy with this generous support,” MIT research scientist Michael Benjamin said in a statement. “Our students and researchers will have extended access to waterways not previously accessible from campus, putting many new research topics and projects within reach.”

“This generous support by Brunswick Corporation will be of direct and immediate benefit to our research, supporting our projects in autonomous navigation, complex mission execution and marine science,” said Michael Sacarny, a research engineer at the MIT Sea Grant Program.

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