Uncharted Waters

Led by its innovative autonomous vessels, Maritime Tactical Systems Inc. is poised for breakthrough market growth.


Bruce and Tom Hanson sometimes sit back and wonder: How could we have come so far, so fast? Sure, Bruce is an electrical engineer who also has a background in avionics. He has a love for speed, too, having helped set multiple world records for manned offshore racing by boat less than a decade ago.

Tom is a mechanical engineer, self-described as an “inventor since childhood.” That might explain things.

Then there are genetics. Their father, William Dale Hanson, was among the original systems engineers at IBM and a retired Marine from World War II. Decades ago, he created designs for an autonomous boat, with drawings and other documentation. The brothers found them, with the papers dated October 1965.

Still, even for two engineers with impressive lineage, the rise (and fall and submersion and acceleration) of their company, Maritime Tactical Systems Inc., is difficult to compute.

Regardless, Maritime Tactical Systems — MARTAC, for short — appears to have blown past technological breakthrough and is heading toward, well, if not market dominance, then a very healthy share. Or, as Tom Hanson describes, “I think 2019 is going to explode.” In a good way.

MARTAC, founded in 2012 and headquartered in Satellite Beach, develops and manufactures maritime unmanned systems, offering a wide range of unmanned vessels and solutions to the military and commercial markets. Imagine boats that can go almost anywhere and do almost anything, often undetected, while employing a wide array of sensors, communication technologies and functions in diverse nautical conditions.

That is in simple terms. In reality, this is the accumulation of years of advanced control technologies, cutting-edge avionics and U.S. Navy surface and aviation experience, coupled with hands-on exposure to extreme high-performance offshore powerboat technology.

Dominance has not happened yet, but it is coming. At least according to Bruce Hanson, the company’s CEO. Pointing to global patents, he said, “We cornered a chunk of [the unmanned maritime market], which is really cool.” The initial patent for MARTAC products and subsystems was approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in August 2015.

Added Tom Hanson, the COO, “It’s new stuff, that’s for sure. … The breakthrough idea is that when you don’t put people in it, you can cross the environmental boundaries, meaning you can be fast on the water and you can maneuver in ways that people can’t withstand.”

Since that time, MARTAC, now with affiliate offices in California, New York, Massachusetts and Jacksonville, has moved from R&D to MANTAS — the Man-portable Tactical Autonomous System — the headliner of the company’s entire operation.

Essentially, MANTAS encompasses intelligent robotics that merge computational and performance capabilities that are continually advanced through innovation. MANTAS can be, for example, autonomously controlled at triple-digit speeds. Also, groups of the vessels can communicate with one another and act together. At first, what was thought to be perhaps three to six possible missions for MANTAS has mushroomed to more than 300.

“This covers such a wide range of things; it’s crazy. And it’s not a single vessel; that’s the difference,” said Bruce Hanson, alluding to versatility and customization. He added that while some competitors can match some of his company’s product offerings, no company can match all of them.

Recent missions for military customers have included surveillance and reconnaissance above and below water. On the commercial side, following Hurricane Harvey last year the Federal Emergency Management Agency went to MARTAC to complete rescue missions and other relief/humanitarian efforts.

Vessels can measure 3 to 50 feet in length, although the company’s current focus is on vessels that are 12 feet and less. As for vessel prices, they are similarly widespread, with costs dictated by the bells and whistles or, in this case, sensors, sonar, cameras, etc.

In another mission last fall, a MANTAS mobile inspection vehicle performed an unmanned hydrographic survey of the Keokuk Energy Center and Dam, located on the Mississippi River, for Ameren Missouri, a major electricity provider. Commented Todd Meyer, a consulting engineer for Ameren Missouri, “The survey images and bathymetric maps allow us to view the dam and structures as if we were in the water next to them.”

Indeed, the Hansons are confident they are, pun intended, only scratching the surface of potential in what they believe is an emerging new era for unmanned vehicles.

“This is really going to be large,” Bruce said.

“We’re still in the early stage [of business], but we’re not a startup,” said Tom.

“The key has been getting out there and determining what else, what more, what better, we can do. … We have and must continue to work hard on design.”

Their company’s growth has been dizzying, for sure. Yet, this much the Hansons do know: Innovation does not stop.

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