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Virginia Tech's Leigh McCue-Weil develops an app to help commercial boats stay safe


Leigh McCue Leigh McCue

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 29, 2011 – A Virginia Tech College of Engineering researcher has developed an app that can help captains of commercial fishing vessels and other small boats better and more safely maneuver their craft in water.

The Small Craft Motion Program was developed by Leigh McCue-Weil, an associate professor with Virginia Tech’s Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. Downloadable to iPhones, iPads and iPods, the app tells boat operators how they are moving about in the water, providing data on acceleration and heave, and roll, pitch and yaw, and other factors. The user can adjust the app’s sensitivity to movement, depending on how aggressive or cautious they want the system’s warning to be. The app has been dubbed “SCraMP” for short. 

“It helps them decide if they should be concerned or not,” McCue-Weil said. “It’s a pretty simple app that draws off the amazing hardware our modern phones now boast, including accelerometers, gyro and non-trivial on-board computing power.”

The first version of the app appeared in early August. A second version, with improvements suggested by users including a fifth screen providing location data on latitude, longitude, course and speed, was uploaded in late August. The app was designed by McCue-Weil, building on research by Lt. Brook Sherman, who graduated from Virginia Tech with a master’s in ocean engineering in 2007.

Winner of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, McCue-Weil’s research focuses on designing military and private vessels less prone to capsizing and other dangers resulting from vessel instabilities. Commercial fishermen – her main target audience for the app -- have the highest fatality rate among all occupations in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

She has received feedback and responses from many people outside of commercial fishing ventures, including large-vessel industrial ships and military users. People have downloaded the app in the United States, Brazil, Canada, Greece and Italy.  

“I’m trying to help empower captains to make their own good decisions,” McCue-Weil said. “Depending on the boat, they may have access to any number of gages, sensors or computers. But under the theory that the captain’s best resource is his own experience and good judgment, my goal was to develop a tool that simply provides him more information in a cheap, portable and user friendly package.”

McCue-Weil, now on sabbatical with the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command’s Carderock’s Combatant Craft Division in Norfolk, Va., earned her bachelor’s in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 2000. She later earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and a second master’s degree, plus a doctoral degree in naval architecture and marine engineering, all from the University of Michigan. 

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 6,000 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.