Wide-area maritime surveillance with intelligent floats is goal of DARPA Ocean of Things project

Dec. 20, 2017
ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are launching a $37 million two-year program involving several different contractors to develop persistent, wide-area sensor surveillance across large ocean areas using large numbers of intelligent floats or buoys.
ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are launching a $37 million two-year program involving several different contractors to develop persistent, wide-area sensor surveillance across large ocean areas using large numbers of intelligent floats or buoys.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., issued a broad agency announcement Tuesday (HR0011-18-S-0013)for the Ocean of Things program to develop environmental sensing and surveillance capabilities with a distribution of heterogeneous floats.

The DARPA Ocean of Things project has two thrusts: building low-cost persistent maritime floats that sense and report relevant data; and developing data processing to transform float data into useful information like vessel track reports.

Today's naval and commercial ships typically can use only their onboard sensors for situational awareness. Using remote sensors from aircraft and satellites can be limited or impossible because of fog, rain, cloud cover, and other environmental conditions. The DARPA Ocean of Things program will seek to correct these shortcomings, as well as provide ocean data to those who need it.

Related: DARPA eyes networks of intelligent floats to provide persistent wide-area ocean sensor coverage

Floats in the Ocean of Things program will rely on commercial hardware to generate data autonomously and in real time in a low-cost approach that could enable industry to build large numbers of floats to cover large operating areas and provide data from areas where limited visibility exists today.

Each onboard sensor mode will require research into efficient signal processing to conserve limited communications bandwidth and stored energy on a float, while making the most of information available from advanced analytic techniques.

The smart float system in the Ocean of Things program will use a cloud-based architecture, find ways to visualize the dynamic capabilities of the system, and find new ways for operators to interact with large numbers of floats.

Ocean of Things will deliver distributed ocean awareness to improve environmental characterization and support testing of specialized payloads and sensor behaviors to interact with surroundings and improve system performance.

Related: DARPA considers buoy communications nodes to restore data networks in presence of enemy jamming

Contractors chosen for the first part will design and build floats for large-scale employment that periodically report environmental data like ocean temperature, sea state, and location, as well as report on operational activity. These floats will communicate to the computer cloud and receive commands via short data bursts to Iridium satellites.

Each float contractor will build 1,500 floats for sea testing. Each float will have a suite of sensors to measure position, motion, temperature, wind speed, salinity, humidity, and solar intensity, as well as a mission sensor for acoustic, magnetic, electro-optical, and RF measurement. From these sensors DARPA researchers want the ability to detect, track, and classify surface ships and submarines.

Each float should cost no more than $500 in lots of 50,000 units, make the most of commercially available components, and be able to scuttle itself to avoid washing up on environmentally sensitive areas, marine protected areas, and coastal areas.

Contractors chosen for the data-processing part of the project will cloud-based products and devise analytic techniques to process float data. Processing will involve field performance and command and control; and the ability to visualize float location, health, and field capability.

Related: Oceaneering eyes optical fiber-and-buoy emergency military communications backup

Contractors will develop the ability to send commands to floats; generate tracks; discriminate between several different targets using multi-mode detections; and discover new signatures, data associations, and mission products.

The first phase of the Ocean of Things project will involve initial design and proof-of-concept sea tests, while the second phase will refine those designs conduct operational sea test.

Companies interested should submit abstracts no later than 26 Jan. 2018 to the DARPA BAA Website at https://baa.darpa.mil/my.policy. Full proposals are due no later than 23 March 2018 2018.

DARPA will brief industry on the Ocean of Things program from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursday 4 Jan. 2017 at the DARPA Conference Center, 675 N. Randolph St., in Arlington, Va. Those interested in attending industry briefings should register on line at https://darpa.solers.com/oot/registration.php no later than noon eastern time on 27 Dec. 2017.

Email questions or concerns about the DARPA Ocean of Things project to [email protected]. More information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/HR0011-18-S-0013/listing.html.

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John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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