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University of Southampton scientists use dolphins as inspiration
THEY are adored by many and have inspired the TV series and movie Flipper.
But now the dolphin has proved to be the inspiration for a technology breakthrough that could help detect explosives or even locate earthquake victims.
Using the way the marine mammals hunt for food, scientists at the University of Southampton have employed the same principals to develop a way of detecting types of electrical circuits used in explosives from other ‘clutter’ that may be mistaken for a genuine target using traditional radar and metal detectors.
The new system has been developed by a team led by Professor Tim Leighton from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research and is based on his unique sonar concept called twin inverted pulse sonar (TWIPS).
TWIPS allows dolphins to process their sonar signals in order to distinguish between targets and clutter in bubbly water. Some dolphins are able to blow ‘bubble nets’ around schools of fish, which force them to cluster together, and the dolphins are then able to distinguish the fish from the bubbles using their sonar.
Professor Leighton’s team proposed that the TWIPS method could be applied to electromagnetic waves and that the same technique would work with radar.
When they tested it by firing a signal of two pulses at a target which contained circuitry used in explosives, they found that the target showed up 100,000 times more powerfully than the clutter signal when it ‘bounced back’.
The team hopes that the technology could be used in the detection of explosives or as a relative cheap identification ‘tag’ for people working in hazardous areas.
Earthquake victims might also be located using the technique, by finding people who are trapped by their mobile phones even when the phones are turned off or the batteries have no charge remaining.
According to Professor Leighton the technology could also be used in a number of other fields, including MRI technology and early fire detection systems.
The research has now been published, paving the way for it to be used in a number of technology industries.
A spokesman for the university said: “The research has now been published and has the potential to work in a number of fields. It is now for technology companies to see whether they want to use the study to develop into a particular area.”
Dolphins can swim up to 260 metres below the surface of the ocean, despite having to continuously come back to the surface to breathe.
Dolphins use a technique called echolocations, which uses the same principles as radar.
There are 37 species of ocean dolphin, five of which inhabit British waters The largest species of dolphin is the Orca, or killer whale.
Dolphins can make unique signature whistles that allow individual dolphins to recognise each other, collaborate and perform several other kinds of communication.
The fastest dolphin can reach speeds of up to 32km/h.
Dolphins sleep by resting one side of the brain at a time. This allows them to continue rising to the surface for air and to keep an eye open to watch out for predators.
Dolphins have been observed teaching their young how to use tools. They cover their snouts with sponges to protect them while foraging.
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