NOAA partners with USM on uncrewed systems

NOAA partners with USM on uncrewed systems
Dr. Gordon Cannon, Vice President for Research, USM (left) and Rear Adm. Nancy Hann, deputy director for operations for NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMOA). (Source: University of Southern Mississippi)

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the University of Southern Mississippi signed a 10-year agreement Thursday to partner on ways to improve how uncrewed systems are used to collect important ocean observation data and augment NOAA’s operational capabilities.

The agreement issues a framework for collaborating with NOAA scientists and UxS operators on projects to further UxS research, development and operations.

“Mississippi is poised to become a major hub for ocean research and innovation and NOAA plans to help drive that innovation,” said Rear Administrator Nancy Hann, deputy director for operations for NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) and deputy director of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. “This new partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi will greatly enhance our ability to transition these technologies into operational platforms that will gather critical environmental data for the nation.”

UxS are sensor-equipped vehicles that operate on their own or are remotely piloted, and NOAA currently uses UxS for seafloor and habitat mapping, ocean exploration, marine mammal and fishery stock assessments, emergency response and at-sea observations that improve forecasting of extreme events, such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.

UxS has the ability to change how NOAA meets its mission to better understand our oceans and their ecosystems.

The use of UxS is not new to NOAA but the recent increase in the availability of highly effective UxS has brought an increase in their use as a force multiplier for many NOAA programs.

“We are excited to expand our collaboration with NOAA for research, development, testing and evaluating uncrewed systems,” said Kelly Lucas, associate vice president for research, coastal operations at USM. “The use of uncrewed systems increases safety and productivity and allows us to expand coverage and access of ocean space, especially in remote, hazardous or extreme environments. Coupled with sensor development, artificial intelligence and machine learning, uncrewed systems will transform data collection and processes to help users make informed decisions.”

The new agreement helps NOAA meet the objectives of the Commercial Engagement Through Ocean Technology Act of 2018, which requires the agency to put together research, assess and receive uncrewed systems with the U.S. Navy, other federal agencies, industry and academia.

NOAA received $13.7 million from Congress in Fiscal Year 2021 to improve and expand UxS operations across the agency, including the creation of OMAO Uncrewed Systems Operations Center, a goal of NOAA’s Uncrewed Systems Strategy.

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