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Acoustic Device Scares Off Scuba Spies With the Sound of Their Own Breath

Sometimes, the bad guys come by sea. A U.S. researcher has come up with a new, non-lethal way to deter malicious undersea divers: an acoustic technique that would overwhelm them with the sound of their own breathing.

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Sometimes, the bad guys come by sea. A U.S. researcher has come up with a new, non-lethal way to deter malicious undersea divers: an acoustic technique that would overwhelm them with the sound of their own breathing.

Though it might seem like an esoteric area of research, undersea deterrence like this was already an active area of research. In fact, the U.S. already has several ways to deter attacking divers. The only problem? They kill people. The current undersea acoustic systems capable of deterring divers generate a kind of sound that “interferes with breathing, induces disorientation, panic, uncontrolled ascent to surface and decompression sickness,” reports The Engineer. And if you become like the undersea terrorists by giving them the bends, why, then the terrorists have already won.

The new technique, developed by Alexander Sutin at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, is not nearly so aggressive. It also has the added benefit of not disrupting marine life–something not true of depth charges or underwater sirens.

Sutin’s technique seems to have been demonstrated only in theory, since The Engineer notes that the next step is to create a method that will isolate the diver’s breathing sound and echo it aggressively back. How does Sutin propose to do this? And would the system be able to somehow distinguish bad-guy divers from good-guy divers, or would it simply put out a blanket defense over certain no-swim zones? We’ve reached out to Sutin for comment.

Update 8:00 PM: Sutin informs me that he’s moved beyond the theory stage, having demonstrated both the ability to detect a diver’s breating from 700 meters away and the ability to isolate and reflect the received sound. Divers would receive a loud-speaker warning once detected, and if they pressed on, the sound attack would come. “We have no way to distinguish bad-guy divers from good-guy divers,” he says, so watch where you swim.

[Image: Flickr user tauchsport-steininger]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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