After deploying robots for surveillance on the ground and air, the US military is planning to recruit fish to strengthen under-water surveillance. An ongoing study funded by DARPA is testing whether the army can rely on marine animals like Goliath Grouper and bioluminescent plankton to detect enemy oceangoing drones and underwater weapons.
The project is called Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) and it leverages marine animals’ ability to respond to the changes in sound, optical, chemical and electromagnetic fields in the water they live in.
Most marine organisms respond audibly or visibly to any such change. Schools of black sea bass exhibit a change in their behavior when they are disturbed by underwater vehicles. Some species of microbes also react when they are in contact with the magnetic signatures of submarines.
Existing underwater surveillance methods like Sonar are usually expensive, difficult to install and are not durable due to rust and marine animals encrusting them.
Manager of the initiative Lori Adornato says, “By taking advantage of organisms, you can then look at persistence and wide-scale coverage as opposed to using one single sensor that does the whole job.”
The project will face two challenges – designing detectors that could detect changes in animals’ behavior and picking up the right organisms to detect changes in the environment.
DARPA has granted $45 million to five different research teams that will each study a specific marine organism and how they respond to changes around their environment.
The research will conclude within the coming few years and the results remain to be seen.