Saw a story about this done by a San Diego Television Station, CBS8, (See the video) on the Coast Guard’s “News and Blog Summary.” If it works as advertised, it could be a huge step forward in port security and maritime domain awareness. A network of buoys, linked together to a shore facility by Wi-Fi detects, locates, and provides imagery of vessels carrying explosives or radioactive material. To get more detail, I contacted, Intellicheck Mobilisa, the contractor that is developing the system. I was able to ask a few questions of their vice president for Marketing, Kenna Pope.
The ability to simultaneously screen large numbers of containers implicit in this technology is also interesting.
Q. Do I understand that the buoy can “sniff” explosives and detect radio active material in a vessel as it passes by? Wouldn’t that depend a lot on the wind, the size and material the vessel is made from, and how the material is packed?
(Answer) Yes, the buoy has advanced sensor technology that monitors and detects for explosive and radiation hazard.
Q. Who is sponsoring the project?
(Answer) The original project has been sponsored by the US Navy.
Q. Is Coast Guard R&D involved?
(Answer) The Coast Guard, while not directly involved with early developments has been involved with various planning meetings, permitting discussions, and in-shore security meetings.
Q. Does it only work only on small boats or on ships as well?
(Answer) It detects both large and small vessels.
(Answer) Due to security reasons, we cannot specify the range limitations involved in the technology. However, our tests to date have been extremely successful.
Q. Could the technology be used to screen a large number of containers simultaneously?
(Answer) Absolutely the technology could be used to screen numerous containers at once.
Q. How far along is the project?
(Answer) The project began as a way to connect multiple ships at sea using Wi-Fi, creating a Floating Area Network® for the Navy. The project began approximately 8 years ago as a research and development project. It has since grown to encompass RadHaz monitoring and the wireless buoys. We have had buoys deployed throughout the Puget Sound and the Potomac River for the past 2 years.
Q. How many buoys are used in Puget Sound and the Potomac? Is that representative of an adequate number for operational coverage or is it only partial coverage for experimental purposes?
(Answer) Unfortunately we are unable to provide specific figures due to contractual obligations with the Navy, but we do have a “network” of buoys in the water providing coverage. While it isn’t fully encompassing Puget Sound as of yet, it is a large enough coverage area to demonstrate the capabilities and allows us to continue our experiments and research of new technologies.
Q. What does the shoreside of this look like?
(Answer) The shoreside interfaces with legacy infrastructure requires no new building of cellular towers or Wi-Fi hotspots.
Q. How much has been spent on the project so far?
(Answer) The project is an ongoing effort initially funded at $4 million to cover research and development and deployment of the buoys.
Q. Just as a matter of curiosity, who has been positioning the buoys?
(Answer) All of the buoys have been manufactured by our team here in Washington State. They handle the development in-house, as well as deployment and maintenance.
Sounds to me, the project is pretty far along and may have actually achieved initial operational capability (IOC). The Potomac River, as an approach to DC, has obvious significance, Puget Sound is a major Navy base including a ballistic missile submarine base (admittedly, also near the Company’s home base), and San Diego is also a major Navy base. Looks like a pattern is emerging. $4M to allow the system to reach this stage sounds extremely reasonable, if it actually does allow detection of a “maritime suicide truck bomb.”