Dolphins inspire radar rescue system

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

dolphin radar
The diode target from the University of Southampton – called the twin inverted pulse radar (TWIPR) – only costs a few dollars to make!

There are a ton of devices and gadgets that are modelled after animals in nature, like airplanes and Harvard University’s RoboBee. Well, the latest rescue device from the University of Southampton, called the twin inverted pulse radar (TWIPR), is no exception – it was inspired by dolphins!

“I was thinking to myself that dolphins should not be able to see fish with their sonar in these bubble clouds unless they are doing something very clever that manmade sonar cannot,” said study co-author Timothy Leighton of the University of Southampton’s engineering faculty. “I sat and thought: ‘If I was a dolphin what kind of pulse would I send out in order to see these fish in bubble clouds?’ and then I decided on a pulse that was a positive and negative pulse.”

Here’s how it works. The TWIPR sends out radio waves in pairs. However, unlike traditional manmade sonar machines, the pairs are sent out in “opposite polarities,” which basically means that one is positive and the other is negative. When the sonar is projected outwards, objects like wood, rocks, and metals reflect the waves and cause them to cancel out. However, when the sonar hits a semiconductor – basically a device that channels electricity – the tiny device will switch negative waves into positive ones. “It makes everything positive,” said Leighton. “They come back very strongly because you’re adding a positive to a positive so you get a very strong signal.”

The technology could be used for a number of emergency situations like skiers trapped under an avalanche of snow or firemen searching for survivors in an unstable building. “If you have rescue workers going into a building that might collapse or mineworkers going underground, you can give them these and it will tell you exactly where they are and who they are because you can tune them to identify the person,” said Leighton.

They might not even need a semiconductor at all, either. The researchers believe the device could work with cellphones even if they are dead!

Featured image courtesy of Loren Sztajer on Flickr. Image of TWIPR courtesy of University of Southampton.