‘The US military wants to enlist fish and other sea life to help it track enemy submarines at sea. The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors program could also modify existing species to make them better underwater spies, an effort that would face stiff opposition from environmental groups.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s blue-sky research and development wing, announced the PALS earlier this month. The program “will study natural and modified organisms to determine which ones could best support sensor systems that detect the movement of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles,” DARPA stated on its website.
The idea is that marine life—everything from bacteria to plankton and corals to fish and mammals—senses and in some way reacts to the presence of nearby ships. To DARPA, those reactions represent valuable data. “The program simply plans to observe the natural, unique behaviors of marine organisms in the presence of targets of interest, and to process those data to provide an alert,” Jared Adams, a DARPA spokesperson, told me via email.
If the military can develop a system for detecting ocean life’s reactions to passing vessels, it could in theory monitor all the world’s oceans for enemy activity—and do so more cheaply and effectively than with purely manmade sensors. “Beyond sheer ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone,” DARPA stated.’