Military Embedded Systems

DARPA program to leverage marine organisms for DoD maritime hardware


September 29, 2020

Emma Helfrich

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

DARPA program to leverage marine organisms for DoD maritime hardware
DARPA image.

WASHINGTON. DARPA’s Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program aims to leverage how marine organisms observe changes in their environment through sensing to augment the Department of Defense’s (DoD) existing, hardware-based maritime monitoring capabilities. The program, launched in November 2018, is now entering its second phase.

In the first phase, teams demonstrated that marine organisms could sense the presence of an underwater vehicle (or confounder) in their environment and respond with an output signal or other observable behavior. 

In the second phase, teams will develop man-made detector systems to observe, record, and interpret the organisms’ responses, and transmit analyzed results to remote end users as distilled alerts. Complete PALS systems will be designed to discriminate between target vehicles and other sources of stimuli, such as debris and other marine organisms, to limit the number of false positives. 

According to DARPA, Phase 2 contracts have been awarded to four separate organizations in order to advance the PALS concept. Raytheon BBN will be working with snapping shrimp for use in a passive bi-static sonar system, Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation will also work with snapping shrimp, using the snap as the input pulse for a 3D acoustic imaging system, and a third team from Florida Atlantic University will use Goliath Grouper as their biological sensor. Naval Undersea Warfare Center – Newport Division is a government partner on the program and intends to use an ecosystem approach to determine if an unmanned underwater vehicle has passed by a reef.


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