Saildrone Opens Florida Ocean Mapping Headquarters to Support Critical Coastline Initiatives

Saildrone is one of several science and defense-oriented companies located at the St. Petersburg Innovation District’s new Maritime and Defense Technology Hub.

The Maritime and Defense Technology Hub features waterfront access for Saildrone USV and research vessel deployment.

Saildrone is excited to announce the opening of its new Ocean Mapping Headquarters and Operations Center located in the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub (Hub), part of the St. Petersburg Innovation District in Florida. The Hub joins industry, government, and academic organizations under one roof with the goal of inspiring and supporting marine science and defense technology innovation. 

The new location will be a permanent deployment site for ocean mapping, ocean data, and maritime security missions, significantly expanding Saildrone’s presence in the US Southeast.

“According to the Florida Ocean Alliance, Florida’s Blue Economy in coastal counties generated more than $797 billion of economic value, or 77% of the state’s more than $1 trillion economy, in a single year,” said Saildrone Vice President of Ocean Mapping Brian Connon. “It is essential that this region is well understood and protected.”

Saildrone will bring all the benefits of its proven technology and uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) to support critical local initiatives like the Florida Coastal Mapping program, whose mission is “accessible, high-resolution seabed data of Florida’s coastal waters to support infrastructure, habitat mapping, restoration projects, resource management, emergency response, and coastal resiliency and hazard studies for the citizens of Florida.”

“We are thrilled to announce our new Ocean Mapping Headquarters in St. Pete. New high-resolution maps of the seabed are essential to help Florida protect communities, grow its blue economy, and facilitate sustainable aquaculture and alternative energy,” said Saildrone Founder and CEO Richard Jenkins. “Uncrewed systems can do far more, at far lower costs than traditional approaches, so we are excited to play a role in bringing a brighter future to Florida.”

Saildrone Explorer uncrewed surface vehicle
A 23-foot Saildrone Explorer awaits deployment off in front of Saildrone's new Ocean Mapping Operations Center in Florida.

Saildrone has a strong interest in the Tropical Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and has already operated several missions in the region, including in 2019, when Saildrone began testing Saildrone Explorers equipped for multibeam mapping in the Gulf of Mexico, during which a new shipwreck was discovered, and a six-month, multinational mission in 2020 to study how air-sea interactions affect cloud formation. 

In January 2021, Saildrone unveiled the Surveyor, a 72-foot USV optimized for deep-open mapping. Then in July of the same year, the Surveyor completed the world’s first autonomous ocean survey sailing from San Francisco to Hawaii, demonstrating Saildrone’s capability to collect high-resolution ocean mapping data that meets or exceeds International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)-standards.

“We are confident that modern ocean mapping and a better understanding of the landscape beneath the ocean will help protect human health and infrastructure,” said Jenkins.

In September 2021, a 23-foot Saildrone Explorer SD 1045 made global headlines for capturing the world’s first video from inside a category 4 hurricane, while collecting critical data to help scientists understand hurricane intensification. The mission “opened the door to a new era of how we study hurricanes,” said Chidong Zhang, director of the Ocean Climate Research Division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL).

Saildrone also plans to deploy maritime security missions from the Hub, helping authorities tackle challenging issues on the water like illegal fishing, which costs the global economy billions each year, and the trafficking of drugs that are devastating American communities from coast to coast.

The Maritime and Defense Technology Hub is located in the former SRI building, a 38,000 square foot space featuring waterfront access for Saildrone USV and research vessel deployment, evaluation labs, and several SCIFs, which are secure rooms used to discuss and store classified information. One SCIF can cost nearly $1M to build, making the Hub an asset for growing businesses. 

The Hub brings together 17 carefully curated organizations tackling topics such as climate change/coastal flooding, red tide, maritime awareness, national security, and energy storage. Organizations will maximize their individual capabilities using the unique features of the building, while exploring cross-cutting solutions as members of the Hub Community. The Innovation District’s mission is to develop St. Petersburg into an environment that fosters job growth, economic development, learning and inspiration by bringing innovative people and organizations together.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch and Saildrone Founder and CEO Richard Jenkins with a Saildrone Explorer USV
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch and Saildrone Founder and CEO Richard Jenkins with a Saildrone Explorer at the ribbon cutting event March 2.

A ribbon cutting event to open the new facility held on March 2 was attended by senior representatives from NOAA, the Department of Defense, Pinellas County, and the City of St. Petersburg including St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, Rick Spinrad, NOAA Under Secretary of Commerce, and Chris Miller, former acting secretary of defense and director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

“It’s clear that the Maritime Defense and Technology Hub is a dynamic innovation incubator for the city. It will have a profound economic impact on the City of St. Petersburg for decades to come, and it will continue to spotlight St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and Tampa Bay as one of the top innovation destinations in the country,” said Mayor Ken Welch.

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