NEWSBYTE: The United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is well known for running all kinds of weird and wonderful programs. One of the latest aims to harness the sensitivity of marine life to build an organic network of underwater spies.
The US military already deploys huge networks of sensors and manned hardware to keep tabs on its adversaries. But tracking enemies in the underwater vastness of the oceans is near impossible.
In order to survive, marine organisms have to be incredibly sensitive to environmental changes and disturbances, and this capability has given DARPA an idea.
In the name of national security, DARPA’s Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program will study natural and modified organisms. The aim is to find sealife that can be either hacked or deployed to support a network of underwater sensors.
Sleeping with the phishes
If successful, PALS technology could register organisms’ responses to target stimuli, before processing that data and sending it on to remote observers.
The PALS program is being led by DARPA’s Lori Adornato, who has ambitious aims for the project.
“The US Navy’s current approach to detecting and monitoring underwater vehicles is hardware-centric and resource intensive. As a result, the capability is mostly used at the tactical level to protect high-value assets like aircraft carriers, and less so at the broader strategic level,” Adornato said.
“If we can tap into the innate sensing capabilities of living organisms that are ubiquitous in the oceans, we can extend our ability to track adversary activity and do so discreetly, on a persistent basis, and with enough precision to characterise the size and type of adversary vehicles.”
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It’s expected that the PALS project will last for at least four years, and require contributions from DARPA’s team across disciplines including biology, chemistry, physics, machine learning, analytics, oceanography, mechanical and electrical engineering, and weak signals detection.
The ethical dimension to this programme is a different matter. Should marine animals and organisms be turned into a national security asset? And have proper risk assessments been carried out on the potential impact on the ecosystem? Answers on a postcard, please.