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Marine Log

March 18, 2008

Port of Pittsburgh gets patent for SmartLock navigation aid

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission (PPC) has been granted U.S. Patent No.7,280,914 for "an instrumented navigation system for aiding a towboat and barge configuration in the entry and traversal of a lock located on a waterway or for navigation around other structures, such as bridges piers or docks."

The port commission's executive director, James R. McCarville, says that the system, called "SmartLock", consists of computers on the towboat which provide pilots with an easy display of navigational charts showing the position of the tows as they approach and enter the locks. The computers are also linked to sensors such as GPS that can send information, i.e. the speed, direction and position of the tows, to the computers for display.

"The Commission's interest in advancing the technology is primarily one of reducing the cost of doing business on the waterways and increasing safety," according to Peter Stephaich, CEO of Campbell Transportation and a PPC Commissioner. He said that "the project was developed as a partnership between the port, Carnegie Mellon University, the local office of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and local industry".

Stephaich noted that "industry is keenly interested in new technologies, such as SmartLock". He said that "the American Waterway Operators recently created a Technology Committee, which he heads, to investigate technology opportunities".

The PPC is also working closely with the USACE to explore the requirements of SmartLock, as well as other new technologies. Last year Congress passed the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA 2007) which authorized, an Upper Ohio River and Tributaries Navigation Technology Pilot Program on the request of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission. The Port is now seeking an appropriation of $3.1 million to fund that program.

Rich Lockwood, Chief of Operations for USACE-Pittsburgh, said "USACE is working with the PPC to explore applications such as SmartLock and other navigation technologies, including the collection and transmission of statistical dataand river information systems".

Rex Woodward, a Commissioner for the Port of Pittsburgh, said that "a minimum of eleven days a year are lost to low visibility, this technology would go a long way toward reducing that lost time, as well as the time, damage and money losses associated with accidents."

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