DARPA seeks ideas for ‘living sensors’ in maritime environment

Hoping to overcome the shortcomings of current sensor systems, the US research agency DARPA is seeking new ideas for more effective sensor technologies to be used on and below the water surface.

The main issue with existing technologies, as the agency explains, is that they are expensive and face corrosion, biofouling and battery exchange challenges.

DARPA reasons that observing marine species which have developed a wide variety of strategies to successfully compete in their natural habitats could be a solution.

“The ability to utilize natural biological activity to provide distributed, persistent sensing could greatly expand ocean monitoring capabilities,” DARPA said in its call for ideas posted online on August 21.

Despite advances in underwater sensor technology, spatial and temporal coverage remains limited, particularly in contested environments. Barriers to persistent, wide-spread sensing include sensitivity/specificity, high sensor/platform costs, limited access to regions of interest. By reimagining organisms as sensing elements, these obstacles can be largely circumvented.

Inorganic sensors or sensor nodes contain certain common elements including sensors/actuators, a processor, memory, power and communications. Replacement of electromechanical devices in whole or in part with living sensors proves attractive since the organisms provide data through their natural behaviors. In some cases, signal processing and storage can be performed remotely thereby reducing the need for local infrastructure and maintenance.

DARPA is interested in responses from communities with expertise in relevant fields, such as marine biology, robotics, electrical engineering, optics, signal processing, communications, biochemistry, and ocean engineering, and can leverage knowledge from applications in sensor development and marine ecology broadly.

You can read the RFI here