Remember in the The Dark Knight when Lucius Fox provides Batman with sonar, or “Bat-Sonar” lenses to help defeat The Joker? Turns out, Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster hit wasn’t that far off in the powerful, superhero characteristics of sonar technology.
While lacking much of the flair DC can put into their comic book characters, the technology still plays a part in our world today, and is used in ways that would make Batman’s sense of vigilante duty tingle.
The Invisible Enemy
For cities needing to maintain their water supply infrastructure, the evil nemesis is a little less obtrusive, but nonetheless just as threatening to their yearly budgets. Think less clown makeup, and more the threat of communities—large, small, developed and developing—lacking proper water access for drinking and general consumption.
Only a handful of companies function as global leaders in transmission main leak detection. Their utility belts containing the power of sonar to accurately pinpoint leaks relating to gas or water, to avoid future disaster. These powers are best used when they can install solutions that monitor these major pipelines for issues before the worst could even happens.
One example is the work accomplished on the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD); a project that successfully ensured a 1960s pipeline continues to provide 7.5 million gallons of water daily to the Las Vegas Strip. Unlike Batman with his spotlight, or Bat-Signal that could knock out a 747, sonar is the invisible hero; saving infrastructures from disastrous situations before they even happen, or people even know they could happen.
A Global Force for Good?
Sonar is not new in any regard. Think U.S. Navy submarines, and you’ll realize this technology is most notable for its use in these vessels to communicate, detect and navigate under the sea.
We can continue to use this superhero conceit further by examining The U.S. Navy’s current use of sonar. According to Collective Evolution, The Navy is currently testing sonar, as well as other explosive devices under the sea, to determine the best way to weaponize the science. This means that close to 140,000 whales and dolphins will be injured or killed, this year due to testing.
While the technology could create benefit, in the wrong hands, it does feel like something that could wreak more havoc than desired. Add the masked antagonist, and swap one mammal for another, and it’s a narrative stripped from the pulp pages of a comic strip.
There’s Plenty of Fish in the Sea
Many companies use sonar to capitalize off its powers; making it an industry for many. If the US Navy can hurt fish, this means many commercial fishing companies can use it to catch the critters, too.
Many commercial fishing companies use the most sophisticated form of sonar, called CHIRP (standing for Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse) to ease the hassle when using their tackle. The technology—some supplied from companies like Garmin, Hummingbird, Spotlight and Forward—means that a digital image of the ocean floor below can be populated in moments.
Those fishes never had a chance to many commercial fishermen, who can use the digital image to find more fish, faster and quicker. This also includes finding bigger catches, avoiding blind efforts, and seeing entire schools of fish, too. For tuna, this means hiding is no longer an option; and for tuna fish-lovers, this means much more tuna salad.
In With the Old
With massive attention to new forms of technology, such as AI, and scientists always thinking about how to develop technology that mirrors what we expect from the future, sonar’s capabilities may seem like old news; but that’s not to say its myriad of capabilities should go unnoticed.
Despite it being “low-tech” (a Raymarine for fishing can go for a little less than $200), sonar’s power lies in what it does, and does well. While it’s a technology that feels futuristic when paired with a vigilante hero, it’s much more attainable, accessible in use, and important than we might realize. Sonar: a technology that much like the science that fuels it, needs us to see beyond the surface to realize its prowess and capabilities.