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Coast Guard Innovation Center Brings National Partnership to New London

May 6, 2016

New London is the home for a new national partnership between the Coast Guard and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security. It’s focused on getting new technologies into the hands of Coast Guard crews.

Outside the Coast Guard's Research and Development Center in New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood, DJ Hastings demonstrated a pepper spray gun.

"It's very similar to a paintball gun," she said. "Any time you have a non-compliant vessel, they actually will warn them to stop. If they continue, you're able to determine the intent of the boat very quickly with this."

She focuses on developing non-lethal weapons like this one that a can help a Coast Guard crew to bring a pursuit at sea to an end without harming anyone. It’s one of the early fruits of a new center based within the R&D facility, the Science and Technology Innovation Center, or STIC.

Director of the STIC, Dr. Andrew Niccolai, gave a tour after a ribbon cutting that formally recognized the opening of the center.

"This whole room in fact is what we call the incubating cell of the Science and Technology Innovation Center," he told the assembled dignitaries. "It’s really where we come together to go through prototypes, to think of ideas. But at the R&D center and the Coast Guard, we really look at the whole field as our lab."

DJ Hastings demonstrates the pepper spray gun.
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR

It’s not always about inventing things from scratch… often it’s just about adapting things that are already out there.

"Instead of disposing [of] that technology, and starting over and having industry build marinized technology specially for the Coast Guard," said Niccolai, "we’re looking to see can we repurpose that technology and marinize it ourselves in a really cost-effective way."

For instance, they’re building quad copter drones for use off of Coast Guard boats, and incorporating GPS technology into a new tracking device for objects floating in the ocean, such as contraband, or evidence that’s thrown overboard during a pursuit.

Congressman Joe Courtney cuts the ribbon on the new center.
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR

"The amount of time we have to bring new technology to the field is shrinking," said Robert Griffin from the Department of Homeland Security. "And we need innovation centers like this to be able to adapt technologies and get them into use in a faster cycle that we’ve been used to in the past."

DHS has worked with the Coast Guard’s R&D center many times in the past on single projects, but the Department’s Anh Duong said formalizing the partnership into a permanent center will allow for a more proactive approach.

"It’s not just about trying to address what the users tell us that they need today. We have to be able to better predict what they will need in the future," she said. "We have already identified what we consider to be high priorities that are in need of R&D for maritime security. We'll become true partners in solving crimes."

Captain Dennis Evans is the Commanding Officer of the Research and Development Center. "Any way that we can help them and they can help us by working together and getting technology in the hands of the folks that need it is really what the partnership's all about," he said.

As the Coast Guard begins to face new challenges driven by threats as diverse as global warming and cybersecurity, its reliance on technology can only grow.