The seven seas, four oceans, and thousands of miles of open water that cover a vast majority of the Earth’s surface are a massive unknown. For millennia, their sheer scope led sailors to believe that they would fall off the planet if their ships traveled too far, and that incomprehensible sea monsters lurked in the deep, waiting to drag them to watery graves. Even in the 21st century, a plane can veer off course and vanish from the watchful eyes of satellites and radio-control towers.

But now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is envisioning conquering the vastness of the oceans, using thousands of small smart floats across the surface of the world that would collect environmental data, and constant real-time information about ships, planes, and even ocean life traveling across the world’s water.

The “Ocean of Things” will be an ocean-based “Internet of Things,” the agency says – and now they’re looking to enlist the best ideas and scientists to help them make it a reality.

“The goal of the program is to increase maritime awareness in a cost-effective way,” said John Waterston, the program manager of DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office.

The Proposer’s Day – held at the “unclassified level” – is scheduled at the DARPA Conference Center in Arlington, Va., for Jan. 4. The deadline for response is noon on Dec. 27.

The Ocean of Things is envisioned to autonomously generate a dataset for worldwide, real-time analysis.

The chief challenges are in conquering the space, DARPA says. Naval and commercial technologies currently are limited in localized data from organic sensors, and remote sensors that are currently in use are restricted by factors like weather. The new floats must have efficient signal processing methods to both conserve limited data relays and energy storage, they explain.

Making the intelligent floats cost effective enough is key, they add.

“It would be cost-prohibitive to use existing platforms to continuously monitor vast regions of the ocean,” said Waterston, in an agency statement. “By coupling powerful analytical tools with commercial sensor technology, we plan to create floating sensor networks that significantly expand maritime awareness at the fraction of the cost of current approaches.”

The meeting will be limited to 125 registrants. The “Proposers’ Day” format is not a formal solicitation for proposals or abstracts.

Photo: DARPA