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COVID-19: Maritime Tech Startups Provide First Response In Global Pandemic Efforts

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August 18, 2020

In recent months organizations like the Royal Navy, maritime heavyweights like IGP&I, the  US Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center, among others, have been partnering with startups and groundbreaking new companies like the UK based Geollect and the MIT based startup blkSAIL to develop maritime COVID tracking dashboards, maps, and AI algorithms. This week the US Navy joins the fight with new programs for maritime innovation.

“In an effort to Bolstering the national response to COVID-19.” says the official Navy press release. “The US Navy is expanding relationships with non-traditional industry partners to tackle naval needs.” This effort includes spurring innovative research in ship autonomy and improving the maintenance and sustainment of naval assets.

Since its establishment last year, the Department of the Navy’s Tech Bridges initiative has harnessed collaboration and creativity to address naval concerns and capabilities. It’s been so successful that the Naval Agility Office (NavalX) recently announced the creation of six new Tech Bridge locations—doubling the number to 12.

“I’m proud how much NavalX has accomplished in their first year in support of the Navy,” said James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, who also oversees NavalX. “They have accelerated the rapid adoption of proven, agility-enhancing methods. They did this collaboratively, with great support and partnership from the DoN’s research, development and acquisition teams, industry, and state and local governments.

“The doubling of Tech Bridge locations exponentially scales this network, enabling us to get new capabilities and solutions into the hands of our Sailors and Marines,” Geurts continued.

A partnership between the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and NavalX, Tech Bridges are regional innovation hubs where warfare centers, government, academia, and industry can team up and work together on technology research, evaluation, and commercialization—as well as economic and workforce development.

The hubs connect and sustain “acceleration ecosystems” in off-base locations across the DoN, fostering greater collaboration. This is done by partnering with colleges and universities, research institutions, start-ups, corporations, small businesses and non-profits, among others.

Each Tech Bridge is supported by NavalX and operates on a “franchise” model that facilitates projects in its respective region—efforts designed to solve pressing problems and technology needs identified by the fleet and DoN workforce.

Notable successes in the past year include funding $45 million in projects to solve naval problems; awarding more than $2 million in prize challenges to non-traditional industry partners; sponsoring $37.5 million in small business innovation research targeting maintenance and sustainment; and helping to distribute over $800,000 to COVID-19 response efforts.

“The new Tech Bridge locations bring in a deeper connection to the Fleet, rapid prototyping mechanisms and the access to talented naval students at the Naval Postgraduate School,” said Cmdr. Sam Gray, Tech Bridges director. “We have seen this network mobilize during the COVID-19 national crisis and are excited to watch them strengthen and serve our country during times of peace and otherwise, in the future.”

Besides the US Navy, commercial maritime technology hubs like Sea Ahead, founded by former GE venture capitalist Mark Huang, in Boston and theDOCK, former Naval Officers,  in Isreal are also providing services for startups. According to one Sea Ahead adviser, it has been joint efforts between small startups, like the partnership between geollect and the sea ahead member company blkSAIL, that have been most effective in providing technology solutions in the wake of COVID19.

“With products like SHOREWATCH, blkSAILS’s AI system to identify ships based on the risk factors identified by port state, port operator, and customs to track and screen ships.” says blkSAIL founder and former MIT research scientist Dr. Mohamed Saad Ibn Seddik. “We can correlate COVID19 infection data with ship movement data to gain valuable insight for port states. With partnerships with companies like geollect we can use AI to power new dashboards, charts, and geospatial data.”

Mariners and maritime industry leaders with innovative ideas for managing ships in a post-COVID19 world are encouraged to apply for Blue Economy startups programs by Sea Ahead, NAVAL X, theDOCK, MassChallenge, or find a maritime accelerator near you.

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