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Coast Guard puts tracking technology to a sink-or-swim test

New London — Say a Coast Guard helicopter crew spots an oil spill, but there aren't any response units nearby. The crew could drop a tracker into the water that would record the location of the spill, so that a ship could return later and start the cleanup process.

That's just one example of how new technology — more formally, Maritime Object Tracking Technology, or MOTT — could help the Coast Guard electronically mark objects of interest in the water.

The Coast Guard Research and Development Center in New London has developed the technology in conjunction with the Navy. And on Tuesday, members of the research and development center dropped 15 of these devices from the Gold Star Memorial Bridge into the Thames River.

The goal was to test the resiliency of the devices before researchers drop them from helicopters in San Francisco later this month. Not all of the 15 devices dropped Monday were retrieved; some broke or sank.

Under normal circumstances, the devices would be dropped from a helicopter or tossed from a boat. When deployed, the devices will transmit a GPS location to Coast Guard crews, enabling a shorter search and rapid relocation of the marked items.

The research and development center made the initial prototypes in-house using 3-D printing technology. The center then contracted with the Navy to produce a more sophisticated prototype made out of high-density plastic, which is what was tested Tuesday.

The research and development center and the Navy will continue to refine the design and "beef it up," said Capt. Dennis Evans, the center's commanding officer.

The final product, intended for use by Coast Guard units across the country, is expected to cost a couple of hundred dollars and be able to broadcast position and location information directly to the first responders on scene, Evans said.

Researchers will test the devices again in a simulated situation, like the one done from the Gold Star, before the field test in San Francisco.

j.bergman@theday.com

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