Mobility is defined as the movement of people, goods and information. For many years, the mobility conversation focused on the ground – autonomous and electric vehicles, shared mobility solutions, next-generation propulsion systems. In the last decade, the conversation around air mobility and smart cities has also gotten a great deal of coverage as companies large and small test a variety of solutions. In the midst of deep dives into the mobility ecosystem, one growing area is often overlooked – autonomous marine technologies. As we’re the Great Lakes state, it’s not surprising that Michigan is leading the way in groundbreaking research on a broad array of maritime innovations.

Just as with autonomous vehicles and drone technologies, Autonomous Surface Vessels and Vehicles (ASVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) technology require significant testing and validation before they can be brought to market. This need is met by one of the nation’s leaders in maritime research, the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) at Michigan Technological University (MTU).

GLRC has been a leader in marine-based autonomy research for more than 10 years and is home to the Marine Autonomy Research Site (MARS) — the world’s first designated freshwater environment for testing autonomous surface and subsurface vehicles, vessels and related technologies. The GLRC is the newest addition to the state’s robust roster of premier testing facilities that companies interested in validating their maritime solutions and deepening ties to Michigan’s mobility ecosystem can access at a reduced rate through a state of Michigan testing grant initiative. Both surface and sub-surface assets are available for use by university faculty, staff and students, as well as collaborative partners, on a shared basis. Four surface vessels and four sub-surface vehicles along with a variety of specialized equipment and trained operators make the marine assets facility at the GLRC an ideal base of operations for research on, under or related to, the Great Lakes, coastal ocean and freshwater environments.

”The GLRC is committed to improving efficiency, safety and sustainability of mobility on the Great Lakes and beyond through advancement of maritime autonomous systems,” said Andrew Barnard, GLRC director. “From autonomous sensors on large manned commercial ships, to fully autonomous vessels, new technologies have the potential to drive economic development of Great Lakes communities. The GLRC supports federal agencies, communities and industrial partners to develop this next generation maritime mobility capability in a manner that benefits all stakeholders.”

In addition to its MARS capabilities, GLRC recently founded the Smart Ships Coalition, a network of scientists, policy makers, resource managers, innovators, mariners and educators working collaboratively on opportunities to apply autonomous technologies to new marine applications.

“There are a great deal of potential maritime applications for autonomous technologies,” said Charlie Tyson, MEDC Mobility Technology Activations Manager, in coordination with the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. . “From autonomous surveying and freight movement to anti-collision monitoring and search and rescue, the coming years are going to see tremendous growth around maritime autonomy capabilities.”