Pittsburgh port seeks firm to build navigational system

FRAMINGHAM (03/03/2004) - he Port of Pittsburgh Commission is seeking a software company to develop, integrate and install software and related hardware for a navigation system that would make it easier for towboat pilots to enter river locks in bad weather.

A prototype "SmartLock" system, much like a similar system used by airlines at airports, has already been developed for the commission by graduate students from Carnegie Mellon University, according to James McCarville, the commission's executive director.

SmartLock is being developed in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard and regional and national towing companies.

The lock navigation aid provides pilots with the information necessary -- in near real time -- to safely and efficiently enter river locks.

McCarville said that so far 44 companies have responded to the commission's request for proposals.

The system could save the towing and shipping industries nearly US$70 million annually by allowing vessels to enter locks more quickly even in foggy weather, according to the commission. The system could also reduce the number of accidents at lock sites.

McCarville said vessels aren't currently able to enter the port on about 11 days a year because of foggy weather.

In addition to offering basic navigational aid features, SmartLock could be extended to provide data collection capabilities, training and guidance for pilots unfamiliar with a particular lock.

The SmartLock Instrumented Locking System uses Global Positioning System technology to find the precise location of a towboat. The pilot receives the pertinent information via wireless LAN, and the system then overlays the data on electronic navigation charts installed on PCs for display.

The cost of the system is approximately $14,000 per towboat, according to the commission.

McCarville said the deadline for submitting proposals is March 11, and the commission hopes to pick a developer in about a month. He said testing on the system would take place this summer and fall.

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