Shark Cyborgs On DARPA Remote control

DARPA has taken another page from science fiction writer William Gibson's book by creating a neural implant to enable engineers to remotely manipulate a shark's brain signals. This would allow them to control the animal's movements and possibly decode their perceptions. Given that sharks have senses that humans don't have (like the ability to sense electromagnetic fields), it could open up some interesting uses.

The implant consists of a series of electrodes embedded in the shark's brain; different electrodes can be used to stimulate different areas of the brain. In addition, the DARPA researchers want to use their setup to detect and decipher the neural patterns that correspond to shark activities like sensing an ocean current, a particular scent in the water or an electrical field.

In the abstract for their presentation to the 2006 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center summarized the implant in the following way:

NUWC is developing a fish tag whose goal is attaining behavior control of host animals via neural implants. This talk discusses a shark tag ... intended for long-term open ocean field efforts investigating viability of animal behavior control and its utility for networked sensing and data acquisition. The tag is centered on a multi-channel neural ensemble reader, a processor to interpret the readings in real-time, and a multi-channel stimulator, intended for both micro and macro stimulation.

Additional capabilities include an undersea navigation/tracking system, acoustic and RF communication capabilities, a sensitive multi-channel Electric field measurement sensor, and a range of environmental sensors, including ph, heading and motion sensors, temperature, pressure and chemical injection micro-pumps...

To date results include neural ensemble recordings and stimulation of Mustelus Canis and Squyalus[sp] Acanthias.
[Mustelus canis and and Squalus Acanthias are the smooth dogfish shark and the spiny dogfish shark, respectively. These animals have a long biomedical research history.]
(From Autonomous Shark Tag with Neural Reading and Stimulation Capability for Open-ocean Experiments)

In Johnny Mnemonic, William Gibson wrote about Jones, a military surplus dolphin cyborg.


(Jones the cyborg dolphin from the movie version)

He rose out of the water, showing us the crusted plates along his sides, a kind of visual pun, his grace nearly lost under armor, clumsy and prehistoric. Twin deformities on either side of his skull had been engineered to house sensor units. Silver lesions gleamed on exposed sections of his gray-white hide.
(Read more about William Gibson's cyborg dolphin)

Of course, there is only so much you can do with a friendly dolphin. Maybe that's why DARPA's military sponsors have chosen sharks. Take a look at these related stories about scientists who have used implants to 'jack' into a cat's brain to see what the cat is seeing, or other researchers who have implanted RFID chips in birds to warn of Avian flu. Read more about Stealth sharks to patarol the high seas.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/5/2006)

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