Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Building an Island in the Ocean

Hurricane-force winds whip through the deck of the ship as 50-foot waves crash over the bow. The sea is churning like a carnival ride, but no one on the ship even notices as they continue eating their dinner.

Although this may sound farfetched, students and faculty at FAU’s SeaTech campus in Dania Beach are developing technology that could make it possible.

It’s called seabasing, which – in layman’s terms – involves creating a sea base in the middle of the ocean with a device that looks like a giant cylinder. The idea was initially developed at the Navy’s Center for Innovation in Ship Design, but a couple of FAU students from SeaTech made it better.

Then last year, the oceanside campus got a $2 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to build and test a prototype. Since then, they’ve created a 35-foot scaled-down model that sits behind the campus, propped up on a few cement blocks. Although it looks like just a giant white tube, inside there’s a computer system, yards of complex electrical wiring, air-filled tanks and cement blocks.

Now that they’ve built a small model, they’re hoping the Navy will give FAU $100 million to build a full-size prototype, which would weigh more than 600 tons and be about 400 feet long, says Frederick Driscoll, principal investigator for the two-year project and an assistant professor in FAU’s Department of Ocean Engineering.

“It’s about the size of a McDonalds,” says Justin Sobol, one of the graduate students working on the project. “It’s T-shaped and works like a hinge. When you let the air out of the tanks, the structure stabilizes.”

This portable sea base – called a Rapidly Deployable Stable Platform – can withstand the impact of oncoming waves because the end of the device sticks down deep below the water’s surface, acting as a stabilizer.

So why is this so important?

“It gives you an island out in the middle of the ocean,” says graduate student Sean Marikle, the student project manager. “Anyone who’s ever been out at sea for a lengthy time can appreciate this.”

It allows ships to dock at sea so they can refuel, transfer cargo or just sit still. The technology is also useful for oil drilling.

“There are lots of applications for this technology,” Driscoll says.

The Navy hopes to eventually use this seabasing technology to create portable offshore bases for U.S. military operations. This would free them from using land bases, which aren’t always possible when dealing with hostile countries.

SeaTech students are now working on a thruster system for it.

“We really have the opportunity to make something that will be used all around the world,” Sobol says. “It’s pretty exciting.”

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