A couple of researchers at the MITRE Corp. developed a prototype for underwater radar communication. They needed to test it, but ruled out the open ocean as too unpredictable.
So they asked facilities management about the prospects of building a swimming pool in one of the warehouses on the Burlington Road campus. “Why don’t you just use the ‘ice chest,’” was the reply.
That conversation a few years ago was part of the backdrop Wednesday morning for a symbolic groundbreaking, ushering in the construction of a BlueTech laboratory to advance undersea testing and innovation.
Douglas Robbins, vice president of engineering for MITRE Laboratories, the company’s research and development arm, related that origin story to a tent full of more than 100 guests. The “ice chest” was an abandoned tank that at one time was used as part of the cooling system for the complex of MITRE buildings.
When construction is complete in about a year, the result will be a state-of-the-art, all-weather maritime test facility. The lab’s 106-by-40-by-18-foot test tank, will hold 575,000 gallons of water (less than the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool).
The test tank will support research, testing, and rapid prototyping in acoustic sensing, acoustic communication, unmanned vehicles, maritime autonomy, and climate science research and development, according to the company.
“The lab will be open for use to government agencies, research organizations, startups, and commercial companies,” MITRE said in a news release.
Kathleen Federico, MITRE’s senior vice president, applauded the ingenuity and innovation it took to repurpose the old chilling tank, which now will serve as part of a “global nexus” for maritime innovation. She stressed MITRE’s role as a bridge for collaboration among government, academia, and industry.
These sectors were well represented among dignitaries at the groundbreaking: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton and Jake Auchincloss; and the presidents of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the University of Rhode Island, Peter de Menocal and Marc Parlange, respectively.
Also attending were Capt. Kailie Benson, commander of Sector Boston, U.S. Coast Guard; Jason Gomez, chief technical officer for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI; and Hope Hopkins, managing director, Early Stage New England, for MassChallenge, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.
MITRE was established in 1958 as a non-profit corporation, spun off from Lincoln Laboratory. For decades MITRE has been among Bedford’s top corporate citizens, exemplified by an annual payment in lieu of taxes of more than $1 million.
The BlueTech Lab will feature cranes to enable precise placement, an integrated camera localization system, data recording, and measurement systems. Information sharing will be available through NERVE, the Networked Experimentation Research and Virtualization Environment.
Warren cited MITRE’s history of innovative impact and mentioned the new maritime research facility’s role in national security and climate-change research. “I’m looking forward to more years of partnering so you get the resources you need,” she said.
Moulton, whose district includes Bedford and most of the North Shore, lauded MITRE as the center of the region’s “innovation ecosystem.” A Marine veteran, he cited the value of the company’s research to troops on active duty. Auchincloss, who represents the 4th District, mentioned the impact of innovation on job opportunities.
Charles Clancy, senior vice president of MITRE Labs, said the model of BlueLab is being replicated in other areas of research, including synthetic biology.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763