Sonar technology inspired by bottlenose dolphins could improve subsea detection capabilities on the seabed and in pipelines and other underwater structures. Jim Drury reports.
Bottlenose dolphins are inspiring a new sonar detector designed to improve underwater exploration. Scottish engineers have decoded the marine mammals' renowned subsea detection capabilities. SOUNDBITE (English) DR KEITH BROWN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT HERIOT-WATT'S SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING AND PHYSICAL SCIENCES, SAYING: "Bottlenose dolphins have the most advanced sonar that there is. It's the result of millions of years of evolution. They can out-perform all the technological solutions that we have. The US Navy has used them for a number of years for finding mines." The sensor was created by developing man-made signals that use the same frequency ranges and sound structures as dolphins. The prototype can detect underwater objects and hear what's inside them. SOUNDBITE (English) DR KEITH BROWN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT HERIOT-WATT'S SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING AND PHYSICAL SCIENCES, SAYING: "We've got two transducers on each side of our vehicle, a transmitter and a receiver; and the electronics sends the signal down to the transducer. It has to be very high voltage signal, so we with a computer have a typical computer level signal. It's amplified up to several hundred volts to drive the transducer and put this dolphin-like signal into the water." The sensor could be vital for offshore pipelines in harsh environments, helping experts find blockages and predict the appearance of cracks. Single ships could potentially conduct multiple surveys at once. It could also help ecologists track the health of the marine environment and map the seafloor.