ATHENA Project Showcase: EARS


With the Waterfront Athena Project just a week away (October 25th at Modern Times Brewery in San Diego), here on the blog we’ll showcase some of the projects from previous Athena events. What better place to start than the winner of last Athena’s Admiral William Sims Award for Intellectual Courage – Environmental Acoustic Recognition System (EARS).

EARS was the brainchild of ENS Robert McClenning, USS BENFOLD’s Main Propulsion Officer and a graduate of the University of Missouri. 

ENS McClenning took a look at the innovative Boomerang system that the Army uses to localize the position of an enemy’s sniper fire and adapted the concept for use on surface ships in the Navy. Using the frequencies of ships’ whistles, he envisioned a system that could recognize the sound of a foghorn and provide bearing and range to a nearby contact in low visibility.

McClenning identified the lack of redundancy for low visibility lookouts and thought that solutions using existing technology were feasible. In fog banks, radar is sometimes unreliable and we depend upon the hearing of our junior sailors for the safety of the ship.

“Right now, our solution in low visibility the equivalent of driving down a highway and sticking our head out the window to listen for other cars,” McClenning said. “If the Army can do it, why can’t we?”

Our friends at the University of Southern California’s Institute of Creative Technologies felt the same way. A group of scientists and engineers attending the Athena event offered to work with ENS McClenning and his small functional team to develop a prototype for the concept.

Researchers at USC prove the EARS concept.

Researchers at USC prove the EARS concept.

Using a pair of Microsoft XBOX 360 Kinects and a smartphone, the Trojans were able to build a quick prototype for proof of concept before tackling a larger scale system. The development has led to more ideas for bolstering the capabilities of EARS, and even expanding it to other applications.

The Boomerang system was developed at a relatively low cost to each vehicle that housed the system, and McClenning expects EARS to be a low cost solution for the Fleet as well.

“We should be adapting the available technology and innovation from other services to fill gaps in our own capabilities,” McClenning said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but Athena has us moving in the right direction.”

You can like Athena on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.


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