Researchers are recreating the underwater geolocation abilities of the mantis shrimp.

Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) scientists are part of a group of researchers who are copying the technique, using imaging equipment that is sensitive to polarising light.

The project was inspired by marine animals including mantis shrimp and cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish and octopus), which can sense polarisation.

“We studied marine animals as we believe some species could be using the polarisation of light to navigate, and our new study is a proof of concept that this is possible,” researcher Dr Samuel Powell said.

People cannot perceive polarised light without the help of special lenses, which are often found in sunglasses.

The new method would enable more accurate and cost-effective long-distance navigation.

“Most modern navigation techniques don’t work underwater. Satellite-based GPS, for example, only works to a depth of about 20centimetres,” Dr Powell said.

“Underwater, visibility is also limited, so relatively old technology such as lighthouses don’t work, because the farthest distance you can see is around 100 metres.”

“Currently, research submarines use GPS systems at the surface, and when they descend—for example, to measure salinity at different depths—they rely on dead reckoning to calculate their position.

“The error in this case is unbounded—that is, the longer without GPS, the more erroneous your calculation can be.”

“Using polarisation sensors, our method would allow for real-time geolocalisation underwater with more accurate long-distance results, without the need to resurface periodically.”

The technique could enable navigation at depths up to 200m below the ocean’s surface.

The study is accessible here.