Because your radar can’t see underwater. - FarSounder

The Tulsamerican B24 bomber lost off the island of Vis, Croatia, in 1944. Photo by Bridget Buxton.

Preventing Disasters at Sea with Sonar

James Miller Professor Ocean Engineering

URI Ocean Engineering Professor James Miller echoes the critical nature of institutional support for faculty innovation and discovery. In 2001, he co-founded his company FarSounder with then graduating URI senior Matt Zimmerman. FarSounder, headquartered in Warwick, RI, provides forward looking sonar to high-end yachts, cruise ships, and commercial vessels around the world. “The venture began with the idea of preventing another Exxon Valdez,” says Miller, referring to the 1989 disaster when the oil ship ran into a reef and spilled 10.8 million gallons in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. At the same time, the researchers figured they might be able to help prevent ships from running into whales and rocks. “From the start URI stepped up with funding to help FarSounder form and get off the ground,” Miller says. “It was a very supportive environment and people believed in what I was doing. My bosses, the dean, the vice president of research — they all said go for it and asked, ‘What do you need?’”

He laughs and adds, “It was a crazy professor’s idea that turned into reality.” Today, the privately held FarSounder enjoys a successful and global reach. Co-founder Zimmerman, vice president of engineering, continues to lead the company. Two of his friends from URI, electrical engineer Matt Coolidge and software engineer Evan Lapisky, were early hires and remain with the company today.

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