By Michael Beaulac and Jon Allan, Michigan Office of the Great Lakes
The Province of Quebec is the gateway to the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes system and connects to the Ontario and Basin State markets further west. Any ship doing Great Lakes business must pass through this province and nearly 60 million tons of cargo of all types is moved through Quebec ports. Accordingly, the maritime industry is not only well represented here in the Province but is also an important innovation focal point. Jon W. Allan and Michael Beaulac, the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes’ Director and Senior Project Administrator, respectively, and partner in the development of the Smart Ships Coalition, visited Rimouski, Quebec in late August to meet with representatives from Technopole Maritime, Innovation Maritime, Centre Interdisciplinaire de Développement en Cartographie des Océans (CIDCO) and the Université du Québec à Rimouski/Réseau Québec Maritime/Institut des Sciences de la Mer to learn more about their technical innovations in maritime research and to discuss the potential for sharing ideas and expertise across the Great Lakes St Lawrence basin.
While all had something unique to offer, Innovation Maritime’s training simulator presents real potential for autonomous vehicle training in the Great Lakes, especially with the incorporation of rules of the road and operation in shipping channels and in congested areas. Conversely, the MARS test bed at Michigan Tech could prove a very interesting venue to test CIDCO’s fully autonomous HydroBall buoy for low-cost bathymetric data acquisition to assess its performance, dynamic calibration methods, processing techniques and deployment strategies. The option of future site visits and collaborations between Michigan Technological University and Rimouski’s Innovation Maritime and Université du Québec was also discussed. Quebec in general and Rimouski in particular showed their high degree of importance on technical and innovation in the St Lawrence Seaway and the Gulf of St Lawrence. The trip highlighted that there is important innovation occurring across the system that could benefit from some further collaboration.
Mike Beaulac also a presenter and panelist at the “Currents 2018 Conference: Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Ships” held in Montreal on October 2nd where he spoke on the Smart Ships Coalition (SSC) and Marine Autonomy Research Site (MARS). He also participated in the “Autonomous Ships: Possibilities for Cooperation Workshop” on the following day.
There were well over 100 participants at the conference from all aspects of the Canadian maritime industry, academia, NGOs and government – many familiar faces from previous Quebec meetings. Many great questions and follow-up from attendees on the SSC and MARS, including offline conference calls on the use of suitably equipped autonomous vehicles to monitor North American Right Whale movements in the busy Gulf of St. Lawrence shipping channel. Information was exchanged with, and the applications of risk-based operational guidelines and vessel/vehicle safety zones were also discussed with DNV GL – Maritime.
The Workshop on day #2 was probably the real head turner as 20 or so participants from the Canada, the US and Norway engaged in a lively roundtable discussion of smart shipping and its’ implications for the Canadian maritime transportation industry. The discussion, which was facilitated by Transport Canada and National Research Council of Canada, included government, ship owners, port operators, academia and other representatives.
The participants agreed with the need to organize around the supercluster concept (https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/093.nsf/eng/00008.html), which is a Canadian government challenge that incentivizes innovation by fostering collaboration among the private sector, academic institutions and not-for-profits across key area in the country. Two superclusters that appear relevant to vessel autonomy appear to be supply chain-based SCALE.AI and the emerging technologies-based Ocean Supercluster. What appeared from this discussion is that the Federal government would continue to take on a leadership role as facilitators for industry to first consider the possible formation of a working group on Autonomous Ships to evaluate appropriate policies and develop a clear understanding of economic benefits. This internal assessment, of course, would be a required precursor to investing resources and becoming part of the Autonomous Ship Coalition.