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FAU Profs Settle Dispute, Build Robots

Florida Atlantic University has finally settled a long-running dispute with three men who used to work in the Owl Nest. 

Stanley Dunn, former chair of FAU's Ocean Engineering department, helped the program evolve from a rinky-dink operation to a considerable force. In 1999, he helped the school land a NATO contract to build high-tech submarines that could detect underwater mines.  Dunn worked alongside with and a consultant he'd once hired, Donald Darling, and another FAU professor, Samuel Smith. Darling founded a company called SeaRobotics and was planning to name the other two men as officers. SeaRobotics would market the submarine technology to private companies. Arrangements like this were generally permitted so that universities could make money from research developed in-house. 

However, around 2001, then-FAU President Anthony Catanese suspected shady dealings, that the arrangement might be inappropriate, since Dunn was not only a professor but a supervisor.  Eventually, a federal investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, but by then the men had been forced out of their jobs and couldn't find new ones. The publicity and cloud of suspicion tainted their job prospects.  In 2007, they filed suit, asking for $1 million apiece.

Their attorney, Alan Burger, released a statement yesterday saying all parties agreed that problems were due to an "unfortunate series of mutual misunderstandings and miscommunications... Florida Atlantic University and Dunn, Darling, and Smith each regret these unfortunate circumstances. They look forward to each other's continued important work."  You know what that means -- they settled! 

Darling, reached at SeaRobotics offices in Palm Beach Gardens, confirmed that they settled but wasn't at liberty to discuss details. However, he sounded bummed that a lot of cool projects he was involved with at FAU -- including one to make autonomous underwater vehicles with the Navy's Office of Naval Research -- never got off the ground.  Dr. Dunn, Darling says, passed away recently and Dr. Samuel Smith has moved to Utah where he runs a  high-tech company.

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Deirdra Funcheon

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