Feeds

Elasmobranch scanner tech ready for War on Terror

Pork-based artificial shark goes to sea

Boost IT visibility and business value

The US Navy's plan to detect mines and other underwater objects by their electrical fields - in the same way as sharks and rays find prey - has moved closer to reality.

Elasmobranch fish (rays, sharks and suchlike critters) have various senses, including relatively conventional vision and smell. But they also have slime-filled "canals" in their heads known as "the ampullae of Lorenzini," after the Florentine court doctor who documented them in 1678. (In seventeenth-century Florence, the ducal physician was apparently expected to dissect any sharks that happened to turn up.)

The slime tubules, it later turned out, are effectively biological voltmeters with sensitivities as fine as a few microvolts. Sharks use them to detect the bioelectric fields of bottom-feeding flatfish lying concealed in sand or mud, so as to scoff them.

Normally, when the US Navy figures out that a marine lifeform has a useful ability, they simply sign a few creatures up on a fish-based remuneration package. The USN has a large force of dolphin and sea lion mercenaries on its books, and in the past has experimented with killer whales, pilot whales and even trained seagulls. Apparently, "trainability assessments" were carried out on sharks too; but it seems that USN handlers never really felt comfortable working with them. Jaws just isn't as nice as Flipper, apparently. For whatever reason, there are no sharks on the Navy payroll today, though there are - of course - plans afoot to use them as remote control brain-chipped zombie slaves.

Meanwhile the USN was envious of the sharks' amazing sensing abilities, for all that these seem to be quite limited. Experiments indicate (pdf) that a shark needs to pass within 15cm of a hidden flatfish in order to pick it up on slime-scan. Of course, circuitry in a sea mine could provide a stronger signal than bottom-feeders' bioelectricity, but on the face of it the shark's abilities aren't that impressive.

Nonetheless, in 2005 the Navy signed up three separate companies to pursue shark-in-a-box style sensor tech which could be used in coastal waters where conventional sonar tends to struggle.

"The shark operates in this difficult environment with great success," said the Navy boffins, no doubt having viewed Jaws a few times.

They were looking for a piece of kit no bigger than three feet long and 4.75 inches in diameter which could be used by Navy divers underwater. It was specified that under Phases I and II of the project "two or three prototypes" would be developed. Phase III approval would mean that "this system will have immediate use in surveillance and monitoring operations with Homeland Security, Global War on Terrorism, Joint Forces Operations, and future combat systems."

Which brings us up to Monday, when it was announced that:

"QUASAR Federal Systems, Inc. of San Diego is being awarded a $6,000,000 ... Phase III contract for ... 'Shark Weak Electromagnetic (EM) Field Detection for Moving Objects.' The objective is to develop a covert/low-observable sensor system for detecting and classifying small, slow moving surface or subsurface bodies in coastal shallow water, bays, port areas, or waterways utilizing weak EM signals or field deviations. This technology has broad applications for both DoD and other Defense agencies. Work ... is expected to be completed in June 2012."

So there we have it. Pork handouts have enabled the building of prototype shark-in-box gear, and we ought to see it at sea from 2012.

Bottom-feeding enemies of America beware.®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.