Saturday, November 10, 2007

Trained Fish for Underwater Mine Detection?

How about the following fascinating development in the continuing Fish School adventure.

I advised a very bright student while faculty at Carnegie Mellon University. As it turns out, his mother works for the office of Naval Research (ONR). When he told her about what his (nutty?!) former faculty advisor was doing these days (i.e. training fish), she was intrigued. After he showed her the videos on our website, she got pretty excited. It turns out, the Navy has a serious challenge with "Littoral Defense" - i.e. how to protect US ships when operating near shore and in harbors in other countries. One only need recall the tragic bombing of the USS Cole (see photo) while stationed in a Yemeni harbor, in which 17 US sailors were killed, to understand the gravity of the problem.

She thought that trained fish might be used to detect underwater mines, and protect ships / submarines from "swimmers" - the Navy's term for people and marine animals intent on planting explosives on or near ships in shallow water.

While initially skeptical, the more I researched the subject, the more convinced I became that trained fish would offer distinct advantages over the Navy's current approaches of using human divers, marine mammals (dolphins or seals) or underwater robots.

If you are interested, you can read a whitepaper (pdf) I wrote and sent to the ONR at their request. As I understand it, our advocate within the ONR is still working to identify the right person in her organization to collaborate with us on the research.

This fish school adventure just keeps getting more interesting. Wouldn't it be exciting if our efforts could eventually lead to trained fish protecting the lives of US servicemen and women overseas?

I promise to keep you posted on any further developments.

--Dean

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