As Russia, China, and the United States race to build undetectable submarines or underwater drones, scientists are recruiting some unlikely help to keep up.
A DARPA-funded program called Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors — adorably abbreviated to "PALS" — is developing a way to use the endless bubbling, snapping, and clicking of underwater shrimp as a sort of ubiquitous sonar, according to Discover Magazine, which talked to Alison Laferriere, the project leader who works at defense contractor Raytheon BBN Technologies.
"The idea is that the sounds that the shrimp create would travel to the object, reflect off of it and we would be able to detect it at our sensors," she told Discover.
Snapping shrimp can shut their claws so fast that it gives off a 190-decibel noise. Because the shrimp are so common, their snapping fills coastal areas with a sort of underwater white noise that could be used to spot enemy submarines or drones — or at least that's DARPA's idea.
"What we’re interested in, specifically, is monitoring the soundscape and determining if there's a change in the soundscape in some way when an underwater vehicle passes through," Laferriere said.
Monitoring that underwater soundscape would only require that the military install listening devices — because the shrimp and other animals are making the noise, there's no need to install a prohibitively-expensive network of sonar-generating devices as well, Discover reports
Of course, Laferriere's team doesn't yet know what a military drone would look like to a sonar detector — she's still working in a lab setting with tanks of snapping shrimp. But if all goes well, PALS will travel to the Virgin Islands to start recording and analyzing oceanic noise later this year.
READ MORE: DARPA’s Newest Drone Submarine Detection Device: Snapping Shrimp [Discover Magazine]
More on sonar: Underwater and Airborne Craft Can Now Communicate Directly and Wirelessly