Navatek, a hydrodynamic engineering firm with offices in Portland, has received an $8 million contract from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research to design safer hulls and a new propulsion system for the Navy’s small, high speed boats, the company announced last week.
The contract, which will run through 2022, will allow the company to add 28 employees to its Portland staff of 22 and will deepen the company’s partnership with the University of Maine, said Maggie Craig, deputy director of Portland operations.
Twelve of the company’s employees in Portland are mechanical engineering graduates of the University of Maine, said Craig, a trend the company hopes to continue. It is also looking to hire electrical engineers from the university.
“We’ve hired quite a few people who are graduates of the University of Maine, and we expect to continue the trend of hiring a lot of people from the university,” said Craig.
Navatek is also partnering with the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center to design new materials for prototypes of the new hulls, and plans to use the university’s 60-foot 3D printer, the largest in the world, to print boat molds.
The prototypes will be built by Front Street Shipyard, a custom boat builder in Belfast.
The research comes in response to a high number of neck and back injuries among small boat operators, including Navy SEALs, resulting from high-speed impacts with waves.
Navatek’s research will incorporate new advances in artificial intelligence technologies to mitigate potentially dangerous collisions, said Craig.
“One of the softwares we want to develop is something that will learn how an expert operator would drive in rough waters,” said Craig. “We’re trying to use that to predict some autonomous driving for these craft.”
The company, which has its corporate headquarters in Hawaii, secured the contract with the help of Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Subcommittee on the Department of Defense.
“Senator Collins has supported us and our collaboration with the University of Maine and other local businesses like Front Street Shipyard, but it was a competitive contract, so we did have to compete for the bid to do this work,” said Craig. “It’s new and exciting, definitely.”