Scientists take inspiration from dolphins with new explosives detection radar

Scientists recently developed a new kind of radar to detect hidden explosives and surveillance equipment drawing on inspiration from the way dolphins hunt using bubble nets, according to the University of Southampton.

Researchers from the University of Southampton collaborated with Cobham Technical Services and University College London to develop a twin inverted pulse radar that can distinguish certain targets that could be used in espionage or explosive devices from other metallic items. Traditional radar and metal detectors often detect clutter like pipes, nails and drink cans as true targets.

Dolphins have been observed blowing bubble nets around schools of fish, forcing the fish to cluster together. Dolphin sonar would not work if they could not distinguish the fish from the bubbles. Researchers were inspired by the dolphin hunting method and developed a unique sonar concept called twin inverted pulse sonar.

TWIPS exploits the natural abilities of dolphins to process their sonar signals to distinguish between clutter and targets in bubbly water.

The scientists then applied the TWIPS method to electromagnetic waves to use the technique with radar. Researchers found that the experimental radar pulses were able to distinguish a tiny target from an item considered to be clutter. The small target showed up 100,000 times more powerfully than the clutter signal from an aluminum plate.

"As with TWIPS, the TWIPR method distinguishes linear scatterers from nonlinear ones," Tim Leighton, the developer of the TWIPS technology, said. "However, in scenarios for which TWIPS was designed, the clutter scatters nonlinearly and the target linearly -- while in situations using TWIPR, these properties are reversed. For instance, certain electronic components can scatter radar signals nonlinearly if driven by a sufficiently strong radar signal, in contrast to naturally occurring objects which tend to scatter linearly."

Leighton said the technology could be extended to other types of radiation as well, such as light detection and ranging and magnetic resonance imaging.