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MUN's Marine Institute in St. John's launches new underwater exploration lab

Joe Singleton, assistant head of the Marine Institute's school of ocean technology, sits at one of the new simulators students will use in the underwater exploration laboratory. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
Joe Singleton, assistant head of the Marine Institute's school of ocean technology, sits at one of the new simulators students will use in the underwater exploration laboratory. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

Big benefit to students preparing to enter ocean technology sector work force

Memorial University's Fisheries and Marine Institute expects its latest lab will give students a leg up when it comes to working in the ocean technology sector.

The new $440,000 underwater exploration laboratory was officially unveiled Tuesday at the Ridge Road campus in St. John's, where a small remotely operated vehicle (ROV) cut a ceremonial ribbon. Through simulations, the lab will allow students in the school of ocean technology to become proficient in piloting ROVs through a variety of scenarios.

"We can customize simulations and tailor to the task at hand, be it in marine renewables, be it in aquaculture, be it in oil and gas," explained Paul Brett, head of the school of ocean technology.



There are four simulators set up in the laboratory. It includes integrated pilot stations, launch and recovery simulators, manipulator control functionality and dual simulator capability. The latter feature lets two students simultaneously work in the same virtual environment. Along with subsea robotics work, the new lab can assist students engaged in ocean mapping research.

Right now, they have 24 unique missions available for students to test their mettle on, ranging from black box retrieval and mine fields to subsea asset installations and underwater rescue tasks. While a lot of the simulations are specific to the oil and gas sector, GRi Simulations can build new programs if requested to further broaden learning scenarios for students.

GRi, a company based in Mount Pearl, provided the virtual ROV technology for the lab.

Brett said the school's relationship with GRi has been instrumental to its success, noting the company has hired a lot of graduates from the Marine Institute over the years.



The Fisheries and Marine Institute's new underwater exploration laboratory features state-of-the-art simulation software and equipment. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
The Fisheries and Marine Institute's new underwater exploration laboratory features state-of-the-art simulation software and equipment. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

Students benefit

Brett said students will benefit a great deal from the new state-of-the-art equipment in the lab, noting it is essential to practice and train in preparation for being ready to join the workforce.

"Typically, in the world of a pilot training, there's many years of working as an apprentice before you ever get to get on the stick or fly," he said. "This gives them many hours of flight time before they leave their program."

Any student graduating from a Marine Institute program with a specialty in controlling ROVs must put in at least 70 hours of pilot time, though Brett noted they routinely exceed that figure.

"This simulation and the number of hours our students spend on the simulation really gives them an edge when it comes to being pilot-ready when they move out into industry," he said. "They get ... 70 to 100 hours of flight time, which many people typically take 10 to 15 years in industry to get. Now, these students are actually much better suited to enter the industry than a student in the traditional sense that would not get access to flying a vehicle."

Glenn Blackwood, vice-president of Memorial University for the Marine Institute, stressed the dual importance of the lab during Tuesday's unveiling.

"I'd like to say, this work is important to the students, but it's also important to the overall economy of the province," he said, acknowledging the application of ROV work to the offshore industry and other ocean-based sectors.

The Marine Institute covered almost $284,000 of the final bill to fund the laboratory, with the federal and provincial governments each contributing $77,495.

Twitter: @CBNAndrew

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