HOUGHTON, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Technological University recently unveiled its Maritime Autonomy Research Site, which the university hopes will spur new developments in unmanned research vessels.

The site, located at the Great Lakes Research Center, is believed to be the first freshwater testing spot of its kind.

At the same time, officials announced the Smart Ships Coalition. It includes scientists, policymakers, navigators, educators and others from around the Great Lakes looking to develop guidelines for conducting research with autonomous boats.

"It's emblematic of the ability of our faculty to be able to bring together a coalition of government agencies and groups and individuals around autonomous maritime research," said Richard Koubek, president of Michigan Technological University. "It's truly a distinction that sets Michigan Tech apart. But also the fact that we have this facility to do it in."

Applications of autonomous technology in the near term will be focused on research, surveying and search and rescue, said David Naftzger, executive director of the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers. The group consists of governors of Great Lakes states, including Gov. Rick Snyder, and premieres from the Canadian provinces.

Their goal is to double maritime trade in the Great Lakes, he said. Autonomous technology can be a "quantum leap" in advancing shipping, he told The Daily Mining Gazette .

"Shipping 25 years from now will look very different than it does today," he said. "In part, that's going to be because of the work that's being done here."

In smaller ways, autonomous features are already entering the market, said Travis White, a research engineer at the GRLC and co-founder of ProNav Marine. He pointed out a buoy in the water that can be used to set up a race course via smart course, which ProNav helped develop the GPS controls.

"Being fortunate to work here at the Great Lakes Research Center, I'm excited to have an opportunity to work on some of the issues still that face the adoption of autonomous technologies" such as safety concerns, he said.

With no crew onboard, a craft could go out in conditions that would preclude a manned trip. The event included the demonstration of a one-third-scale model of a swarming boat, which will be able to work in conjunction with other vehicles and assess wave fields to choose how to maneuver in choppy waters.

Interest in the jet ski, which is outfitted with sonar, is also a step toward surveying the Great Lakes without a piloted vessel said Guy Meadows, director of the Great Lakes Research Center.

"Surveying on a jet ski is really fun, but if you're talking about surveying the Great Lakes, our real goal is to get the human out of the loop," Meadows said.

"Human, out of the loop!" he then commanded the pilot, who raised his hands away from the controls as the jet ski sped on.

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Information from: The Daily Mining Gazette, http://www.mininggazette.com