Underwater-imaging system seen filling security gap

With all of the attention paid to terrorism in the last decade, few would expect the country wouldn’t have the technology it needs to protect its ports from an attack by scuba divers. More

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Underwater-imaging system seen filling security gap

COURTESY FARSOUNDER GOOD IMAGE: FarSounder signal-processing engineer Nabin Sharma monitors diver-detection sonar outputs during a recent field test.
Posted 12/26/11

With all of the attention paid to terrorism in the last decade, few would expect the country wouldn’t have the technology it needs to protect its ports from an attack by scuba divers.

But Warwick sonar innovators FarSounder Inc. think they have found an underserved space in the marine-defense sector tracking hostile frogmen and other underwater threats.

And the U.S. Department of Homeland Security seems to agree.

The federal agency in December named FarSounder one of 11 companies in its new DawnBreaker program to commercialize important, new security technologies.

The technology FarSounder has been developing and plans to market to private companies and government agencies is a variation on the high-resolution 3-D underwater-imaging systems FarSounder has been making for 10 years.

But instead of providing ships with images of the seafloor ahead of them, these security systems provide images of the water itself and can detect and identify objects like scuba divers approaching harbors, oil rigs, moored ships or sensitive waterfront military and industrial installations.

“We were trying to find a niche for our technology, so we started tracking underwater threats with it and found that there was a technology gap,” said Cheryl Zimmerman, CEO of FarSounder. “We started developing a software package for tracking divers and we realized that we can not only track but classify things in the water.”

The ability for the software to classify underwater objects as well as spot them is important if the technology is going to become commercially useful, Zimmerman said, because it allows those monitoring the water to tell an enemy diver from a harbor seal or large fish.

The system can also track divers using re-breather devices, which allow frogmen to move underwater without leaving a revealing bubble trail that is invisible to some tracking systems.

While the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to inquiries about why they chose FarSounder for the new commercialization program, Zimmerman said she thinks it was those capabilities that attracted the agency.

“In the security end we have more competitors than in navigation, but we believe we have some unique features to our system and Homeland Security agreed,” Zimmerman said.

The Dawnbreaker program is a new initiative for Homeland Security that’s based on similar military programs designed to accelerate the commercial development of defense-related technologies.

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