Military Copycats

Research Proposal

The way that humans have advanced their use of technology past the point of the basic stone and stick is one of the things that separates them from the rest of the species on the planet. Inspiration for new types of technology comes from the world around us. Often people look to their natural environment in search for ideas to improve their lives. Ideas such as solar energy come from the knowledge that plants convert sunlight into energy that is used to sustain them. In an attempt to further improve the process scientists have taken to studying the process of photosynthesis in an effort to make it more effective. Echolocation has followed the same process. The military saw that dolphins and bats use echolocation to locate objects in their surroundings. They then adapted it in to sonar and radar. In an effort to make them more effective they studied in detail the animals that developed echolocation for their survival.

Echolocation differs between aquatic and land animals due to the difference in their environments. The way that echolocation works even differs between the individual species of bats and dolphins. For some species echolocation is their sole method of orientation while others posses limited eyesight. In some of the cases that animals possess eyesight and echolocation they use them interchangeably. The different species emit sounds at different frequencies. In all cases of true echolocation there is both the ability to emit and receive an ultrasonic sound. Part of the reception of the sound happens in the brain. “There are different relationships between the cortical and subcortical divisions of the brain in bats as compared with other mammals” (Airapet’yants 277). Other portions of the brain are also affected echolocation. The area of the brain that is in charge of echolocation is separate but essential.

With new advances in warfare there came to be a need new advances in counter warfare. The development of sonar and radar are part of this process. “Electronics in war… [began] to affect the whole character of war” (Devereux XV). Radar and sonar were used in both of the major wars of the twentieth century. They were invented using the already developed radio. The radio was developed as communication in the late nineteenth century. A German inventor patented the radar in 1904 when he noticed that radio waves would bounce off of a passing ship. The first sonar was patented in 1912 and more research was done when there became the need to detect German U-boats or submarines during World War I.

Further studies were done with the goal of making military echolocation more effective. To do so examples were needed of successful examples. This is when the military turned to animals that had developed the adaptation. The natural equivalent to radar is bats and the natural equivalent to sonar are dolphins. “The Navy’s sonar program and civilian marine mammal research program were linked during World War II” (Axtell 206). There are two types of sonar: active and passive. Marine mammals use active sonar while the sonar in military aquatic vessels was passive. Active sonar is when a sound is sent out, bounces off objects and returns while passive sonar is when the sounds made by other objects are listened for. The military now uses a combination of passive and active sonar.

A major way of learning is through the use of examples. Initially the military was able to develop their own methods of echolocation to determine the objects in their surroundings. In efforts to improve the military worked with who made a study of the animals that adapted to use echolocation. In some cases dolphins were used directly my the military “to sweep for mines, recover lost ordnance, and detect enemy ‘frogmen’ at sea” (Axtell 206). Currently the echolocation systems of the military have become every effective tools. They are different from those of bats and dolphins however. Animal echolocation provides a detailed account of the area in a close range while machines provide a general account of information on the area but at long distances. “‘Live locators’ are a cause for envy among engineers” for their ability to accumulate detail (Airapet’yants 279).

Annotated Bibliography

Airapet’yants, Ervand Shamirovich, and Aleksei Ivanovich Konstantinov. Echolocation in Animals. Jerusalem: Israel Program of Scientific Translations , 1973. Print.

Echolocation was developed independently in land and aquatic animals. Overtime the echolocation techniques were refined through evolution. Individual species have developed different techniques of echolocation. In all situations that echolocation was developed the use of vision was restricted or impossible. Echolocation is developed in stages for nocturnal animals or animals that spend a limited amount of time during the day. True echolocation involves an ultrasonic emitting system and the ability to perceive ultrasound. When an animal’s eyesight is eliminated spatial perceptions are not effected and are accompanied by increased echolocation activity. As a Soviet scientist from Russia the Soviet idea of man’s superiority over nature is displayed. The work is very technical due to the fact that it was written for the benefit of his fellow scientists. This and the similar article by Bin-bin will provide me with detailed explanations on how animals use echolocation.


Axtell, Matthew A. “Bioacoustical Warfare.” the minnesota review 2010.73-74 (2009): 205-218.

Axtell, a PHD candidate at Princeton, provides a historical account of the use of aquatic mammals used by humans for their echolocation abilities. He writes to inform and influence the average reader of human’s and specifically the military’s use of aquatic mammals to their own advantage. There is also an explanation of the cultural perception of aquatic mammals and the increased amount of knowledge about them due to it. This covers a more recent events than Devereux’s book does but in less depth. It will however provide me with information on the more recent events in sonar.


Bin-bin, Cheng. “Bats’ Acoustic Detection System and Echolocation Bionics.” Radar Conference (RADAR), 2012 IEEE. Mianyang, China : Inst. of Electron. Eng., China Acad. of Eng. Phys., 2012. 984-988. Print.

The article is an in depth description look at the science behind bat echolocation. It shows describes both how the bat emits sound for echolocation through its mouth or nose and receives it in its ears. Diagrams are provided that help display the bat’s reaction to sound. Bin-bin provided this article for a conference on radar and points out the adjustments that could be made to a radar to make it more effective. This article like Airapet’yants’s book covers the technicalities of bat echolocation but does not provide me with information about echolocation in other animals,


Devereux, Tony. Messenger Gods of Battle: Radio, Radar, Sonar, The Story of Electronics in War. London: Brasse’ys UK, 1991. Print.

Devereux writes this work with an attempt at being impartial that he felt was excluded from previous works because they were unconsciously influenced by Anglo ethics of World War II. He also writes with the purpose of explaining electronic warfare to the common person. There is a focus on the First and Second World Wars due to the increased introduction of electronics during this time. The technological accomplishments are explained in a way that shows that the new technology builds off the previous technology. There is also the discussion of the ever-increasing use of technology in warfare. With its focus only on history the book does not cover more technical aspects and briefly covers political ones like that of Axtell.


Leighton, Timothy G. “Biologically-Inspired Radar and Sonar Systems.” Radar, Sonar & Navigation, IET. 6.6 (2012): 507-509. Print.

Provided for a specific edition of a scientific journal with a focus on machines that were inspired by animals, Leighton uses knowledge as a Professor of Ultrasonics and Underwater Acoustics at the University of Southampton, UK speaks of the decreased funding towards research in this area. He speaks of the steps taken to improve the situation. This provides the most general information and speaks mainly of the fate of the research and less on other subjects.

One thought on “Military Copycats

  1. I find your point very interesting; I think that it’s ironic that we were inspired by the use of sonar by dolphins and other sea creatures when our developments have lead to a lot of negative effects for the very species we are copying.

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