Web Apps Help Police Coastal Waters

The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) have teamed up to fund the design of Web applications that will help countries better protect and police their local waters.

Dr. Augustus Vogel, associate director of ONR Global Latin America, told us that the DoD will provide $1 million to the ONR's International Collaborative Development for Enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness (ICODE MDA) project. The project is working with partners in Chile, South Africa, Ghana, and other countries to create maritime protection applications.

Specifically, the program will fund projects by graduate students from universities in those countries -- such as the Technical University of Federico Santa Maria in Chile and the University of Ghana -- to create Web-based data analysis apps, or widgets, that sailors and maritime operators can use to combat specific problems in coastal waters. "The key thing in working with the partners is each one of them has maritime challenges off their coast," Vogel said.

The idea behind the project is to provide real-time access to information to help naval and other maritime operators keep a closer eye on activity, identify anything suspicious, and aid in search-and-rescue operations, he said. Maritime operation centers would use the apps on an Internet device in their offices and provide information to ships in the area.

In Ghana, naval and coastal operators face problems with illegal fishing, Vogel said. Graduate students there are working on an app that can identify ships from satellite imagery and compile environmental information about the location to help fisheries see where ships are clustering. This could help officials protect overfished waters and enforce other policies to manage fishing in the area, Vogel said.

Other students in the ICODE MDA program are working on technology that can match satellite imagery of ships with signals from the automated identification system (AIS) beacons most ships use for safety. If naval or maritime operators see ships without AIS beacon signals, "you would wonder why they would turn off their beacon," Vogel said. This could help identify illegal or nefarious activity, such as drug or arms trafficking or piracy.

The ONR also is working with the University of Pretoria, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa, and the University of Mauritius.

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