school of fish (Rich Carey/

DARPA wants 'living sensors' for surveillance

Despite advances in sensor technology, deploying them in the marine environment has been limited because of the high platform costs, power requirements and routine maintenance challenges associated with corrosion and the removal of algae and barnacles on a remote system.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, however, thinks there might be a better way to get sensor-like intelligence, even underwater, if existing plants and animals could be "reimagined as sensing elements."

More than a canary in a coal mine, DARPA's Living Sensors program wants to replace common sensor elements – actuators, processors, memory, power and communications – in whole or in part with living sensors that provide data about their environment through natural behaviors.

DARPA wants to hear from researchers with experience in sensor development and marine ecology who can change the "marine sensing paradigm" with high-impact, real-world applications that address the following topics:

  • Using energy emitted from an organism as input signals to new sensing or imaging systems.
  • Detecting compounds or phenomena of interest by avian olfaction and/or marine chemoreception.
  • Converting species migration patterns, including magnetic field orientation, into tactically useful information for naval operations.
  • Translating complex biological sensor data into actionable information while minimizing uncertainty.
  • Transmitting data to remote observers using biological means.
  • Interpreting changes in the natural underwater soundscape relative to human activities.

Responses are due Sept. 20. Read the request for information here.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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