At the Coast Guard’s Expo, the Biggest Star Is the Robot That Plugged the BP Leak
TAMPA, Fla. - What has two arms, weighs three tons and is handy with tools 10,000 feet below the ocean's surface?
It's the machine that helped put an end to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
This year's Coast Guard Innovation Expo featured hundreds of exhibits, but none received as much buzz as the Millennium, a remotely operated vehicle that assisted in capping the Deepwater Horizon leak off the Gulf Coast this summer.
The unmanned submarine belongs to Oceaneering International Inc., a Houston-based company with locations around the world. During the BP oil spill, the firm had 16 of the 6,000-pound machines working to stop the oil flowing into the gulf.
The machines are operated by joysticks from a ship to which they are tethered by a cable that can stretch nearly a mile. They can float, lift 1,000 pounds underwater and put together or take apart complicated contraptions. One arm of the Millennium has a large enough claw to grab and hold pipes. Another does the finesse work like using wrenches and tying bolts together.
Oceaneering International just recently began making the tradeshow rounds, said manufacturing manager Mark Campbell, who added that the machine on display at the expo will be heading to Singapore, another country that suffered a devastating oil spill this year.
This year's expo featured a variety of high-tech systems, from fast boats and biometrics technology to company displays about the much-discussed drones the Coast Guard so far has been unable to field. The service already had picked up on some of the technology on hand, including Oregon-based FLIR's Talon family of infrared and sensor systems. The Coast Guard uses these devices on its cutters and helicopters. Looking like an upside down basketball trophy, one variation of the Talon uses a patented seal to keep out saltwater and spray. The Navy also uses this variation on “go-fast” boats.
Navigation and communication systems also were in abundance on the floor. General Dynamics had a display about its Rescue 21 project and transmitting data to and from helicopters. Rutter Inc.'s Sigma S6 Ice Navigator can help protect vessels from damage by identifying the best route through icy waters.
BAE Systems employees showcased the company's simulation software by playing an old-fashioned video game of good versus evil. Some employees took the controls of a Coast Guard cutter, while others played the role of pirates in small boats. As expo attendees stopped by to play the good guys, some made it through the virtual gauntlet without trouble while others watched their ship go up in flames.
The Coast Guard brought to the show a handful of its boats, including relatively new ones used for high-speed pursuits at the northern and southern U.S. borders. One 13,700-pound boat is 37 feet long and reaches speeds greater than 50 knots.
Contractors understand that if a boat crashes against waves at such speeds, those on board need safe places to sit. “If you don't have a seat you can trust, you have to stand to protect yourself,” said Sean Gerrett, sales manager for Shockwave, a Canadian company that outfits many Coast Guard boats with their shock-mitigating seats. The firm's president, David Smith, tested his own product by using it on a rough-and-tumble 8,000-mile trip from the eastern edge of Canada up through the country's northern waterways to the west coast.
This year's expo was the Coast Guard's largest in its decade-long history and featured more than 500 exhibitors.