Cyborg sharks: The military has a new toy
Move over Jaws, you are no competition for the stealthy and incredibly intelligent cyborg sharks of the future. The picture to the left might cause you to burst out laughing because you know its only a Photoshop masterpiece, but what if I were to tell you that there are scientists and engineers working to make such a fictitious image a reality...
What Type of toy are we talking about?
Sharks are quite remarkable creatures, physically streamlined to glide through the water without being detected, an incredible sense of smell, remarkably good eyesight, and the ability to detect electrical and magnetic fields (Michaelidis, 2007). Unfortunately, sharks have a pretty bad reputation as being mindless, unintelligent, hungry monsters, who love the taste of human flesh. Such a description could not be farther from the truth; in my opinion, if you want to put on a black wetsuit, lay down on a surf board, and look like a yummy morsel, helplessly floating on the ocean’s surface, you’re asking for it and better understand the possible consequences. Consider the following...
WHO’S WHO: The picture on the left is an image of a sea turtle from below, and the picture on the right is an image of a surfer from below. Basically, the shark observes similar features and unfortunately for the surfer, turtle-shape equals lunch. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: There have been several documented cases where sharks bite humans due to such food/shape confusion. Generally, after biting the shark realizes that it has made some mistake, releases, and swims away. A LITTLE TRIVIA: It has been suggested that the number of deaths caused by falling coconuts is 10 times the number of deaths caused by shark attacks. If that isn’t believable try to guess the US’s most dangerous animal…any guesses? It’s BAMBI! Deer are responsible for 725,000 collisions, 29,000 injuries, and about 200 deaths (Insurance Information Institute, 2003).
How does it work...I can’t find the instructions?
So, now that you know all about the unique features of this future “toy” how does it work? It all starts with a neural implant that allows the shark to be controlled and manipulated remotely. Engineers of the US military are currently developing and producing such technologies in hopes of being able to understand how sharks interact with their environment and decode the information that the shark is receiving (Christensen, 2006). Okay, big deal, when do we get to the point of strapping lasers to sharks’ heads? Answer: how can you manipulate something if you don’t know how it works? Back to business, once engineers have perfected the technology, it’s the biologists turn to experiment. Currently, biologist Jelle Atema of Boston University and his students are using neural implants to manipulate spiny dogfish (Cooke, 2004). Now when I say manipulate, I don’t mean that the sharks are obeying their every command; instead, the implants are being used to steer the shark to different areas by stimulating the olfactory center in the brain (for those of you who don’t know, the olfactory center controls your sense of smell). Since sharks have a keen sense of smell, stimulating the area to the left or right of the olfactory center will cause the shark to turn left or right respectively (Cooke, 2004).
What game should I play with my new cyborg shark?
Now what? What comes from learning how to successfully manipulate sharks? DARPA, the defense advanced research projects agency, plans on using their new remote controlled sharks to act as stealthy spies. With the ability to sense electrical fields, the cyborg sharks could potentially locate an enemy ship and silently follow it undetected. Of course little lasers could also be strapped to their heads and remotely triggered!!!
You might ask…how is such research being approved in an ethical sense? Consider the image to the left; this is a picture of an injured dolphin named Winter. Winter lost her tail fin when it became caught in fishing wire. In order to stay buoyant, Winter has to struggle with only a stump for a tail, but that could soon change. Marine biologists Steve McCulloch and Dana Zucker want to help Winter by creating a prosthetic tail fin that will allow a somewhat more normal life for the dolphin. The prosthetic will have to be strong enough to propel Winter through the water, so engineers are faced with a challenge.
Shark Attacking Helicopter Image: Urban Legends and Folklore.
Copyright © 2007 Andrew Cichowski, All Rights Reserved.