MITRE Accepts $2 Million Grant to Foster Maritime Research Network

June 21, 2023

If the 2,500 employees at Bedford’s MITRE Corp. want to spend time at the ocean, they will need more than their lunch break to make the round trip – notwithstanding the high school teams called the Buccaneers.

But technologically, the Burlington Road campus is the center of the universe for partnerships and collaborations in the expanding field known as blue tech.

Last week, Gov. Maura Healey and other high-ranking state officials visited MITRE to announce a $2,052,767 grant to the firm that over the next two years will create BlueTech OCEAN (Open Collaborative Experimentation and Acceleration Network).

The network will facilitate MITRE’s collaboration with universities, marine research institutions, and businesses from around the state that are focused on unleashing the technological potential of the ocean.

The grant, funded through the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, will also help MITRE fund and outfit its state-of-the-art blue tech laboratory on the Burlington Road campus, as well as promote career opportunities to students across the state.  

The lab will include a camera/localization system, an unmanned underwater vehicle, and test equipment. It will be used by researchers, entrepreneurs, and established companies to help accelerate their growth in areas such as undersea sensing, communications, and autonomy.  

“Our definition of blue tech is pretty broad,” said Nicholas Rotker in an interview this week. Rotker is MITRE’s chief blue-tech strategist and manager for underwater and acoustics systems. “It is a technology that enables folks to operate in a true marine environment, on the surface and below.” 

A rendering of a tank being constructed in Bedford to be used for government, industrial, and research projects as part of Mitre’s BlueTech program. Courtesy Image: https://bluetech.mitre.org/

That technological capability, he said, can help a range of specialties – commercial fishing, offshore energy, shipping, aquaculture, and a variety of near-shore industries that help the maritime economy.

“The ocean and ocean economy are integral parts of our national security, economic security, and climate security,” said Rotker. “MITRE is here to tackle these large, national-scale problems. We saw a need for connectivity and collaboration.”

Rotker, who began his affiliation with MITRE as an intern while a graduate engineering student at Tufts University, leads research and development on sensing capabilities and platforms in the blue-tech sphere, and engages with core collaborators across academia, industry, and government. Federal sponsors include the Navy and Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Blue tech is not a new focus for the federally-funded research and development center, Rotker said, but “our investments and delivery to our sponsors accelerated over the last three years,” applying “new capabilities.” The grant will help the company “enable and accelerate innovation, access testing, access to data and collaboration to make sure the nation and the region are leading.”

The BlueTech OCEAN will be the Massachusetts portion of a national data hub called BlueNERVE, that will connect lab spaces and marine research organizations to establish real-time data sharing and simulation capabilities.  

“We were trying to find ways to accelerate the rollout of the network and this grant was the perfect opportunity,” said Rotker. “The concentration of academia and industries makes this a very good place. The great thing we have going for us is this great list of partners,” and there will be “buildout opportunities for each. The network hardware has already been ordered,” he added.

One result is a surge in jobs. “We are actively hiring for jobs in blue tech space – electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, oceanographers, folks that are studying marine science, a diverse team of engineering and science disciplines to tackle these really hard problems.”

Healey, speaking at grant announcement ceremonies in a MITRE auditorium on June 8, cited Massachusetts’s leadership in “marine-focused technologies,” as well as in ocean-related clean energy. She said facilities like MITRE’s blue lab are “going to unlock more innovation that is going to help our state.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll followed Healey at the microphone, stating that the partnerships fostered by the network will benefit all communities in the state. Carolyn Kirk, executive director of MassTech Collaborative, cited the advantages to startup businesses.

Among the other dignitaries at the presentation was U.S. Rep. Jacob Auchincloss. The Newton Democrat praised “the talent and work ethic of our people” as keys to the state’s competitive edge. The ocean, he said, “is going to be the source of clean, affordable, reliable energy.”

Also speaking at the grant announcement was Douglas Robbins, vice president, engineering and prototyping, MITRE Labs. The governor’s entourage included former Town Manager Sarah Stanton, now undersecretary of economic strategies with the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

State Rep. Kenneth Gordon of Bedford was also at the ceremony, along with interim Town Manager Colleen Doyle and Jeffrey King, Director of Housing and Economic Development for the town.

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