DOD SBIR 24.2 Annual

Release Date
April 17th, 2024
Open Date
May 15th, 2024
Due Date(s)
June 12th, 2024
Close Date
June 12th, 2024
Topic No.


Unmanned Aerial System for Tag Deployment in Marine Mammal Monitoring


Department of DefenseN/A


Type: SBIRPhase: BOTHYear: 2024


The Department of Defense (DOD) is seeking proposals for the topic "Unmanned Aerial System for Tag Deployment in Marine Mammal Monitoring" as part of their SBIR 24.2 Annual solicitation. The objective of this topic is to develop a compact, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) unmanned aerial system (UAS) and payloads to accurately deploy Type A anchored biologging tags from small boats for marine mammal monitoring. The use of UAS in tag deployment can reduce risks and increase deployment rates. The Phase I of the project involves developing concepts and feasibility, while Phase II focuses on developing prototype payloads and technology hardware. Successful adaptation of the UAS and payload will have applications in marine mammal monitoring for various government agencies. The project duration and funding specifics can be found in the solicitation notice on or the DOD SBIR/STTR website.




OBJECTIVE: Technologies and techniques for marine mammal monitoring are growing rapidly but many barriers remain. This SBIR topic seeks to adapt a compact, National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)-compliant, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS), unmanned aerial system (UAS), and develop the payloads to facilitate accurate deployment of Type A anchored biologging tags from small boats to improve marine mammal monitoring, health measurements, behavioral sequencing, and understanding of the effects of Navy sources of sound on marine mammals.


DESCRIPTION: Advances in both biologging tag technology and UAS present unprecedented opportunities to improve our capacity to collect robust data with minimal disturbance to marine mammal species. In particular, percutaneous tags can collect data over extended periods and are integral to understanding cetacean ecology. Compared to other less invasive tag types, these percutaneous tags are capable of collecting datasets on the order of weeks to months, which are critical in providing information on marine mammal distribution, migration, and behavior. Such data are necessary to support the Navy’s environmental compliance requirements.


However, as these tags require both significant force and accurate placement to attach to the individual properly, current methods of tag deployments via a long pole from a small boat are challenging, as they require close boat approaches, thereby increasing the risk to both the cetacean and tagging personnel. Further, cetaceans often respond evasively to close boat approaches, which increases chances of harassment, reduces deployment opportunities, and extends the time it takes to deploy each tag.

As such, the use of UAS in tag deployment can help reduce these risks while also increasing tag deployment rates by enabling remote deployment of percutaneous tags. While UAS methods have led to the successful deployments of suction-cup attached tags on cetaceans, to date these available systems rely only on gravitational force and are therefore inadequate for Type A anchored tag deployments that require accurate tag placement.


This SBIR topic seeks to adapt a compact, NDAA-compliant, COTS UAS and develop payloads capable of carrying both the biologging tag and propulsive source to facilitate accurate deployment of Type A anchored tags. In particular, this prototype device should include the ability to launch and recover from small boats, have sufficient propulsive force to launch the tags at a sufficient speed for anchored attachment, accurately hit small targets when taking into account winds and motion of the UAS and animal, and minimize operator training and workload. Further, this COTS UAS device should utilize predictive systems to model the ballistic trajectory of the irregularly shaped tags and take into account onboard measured environmental factors such as true wind speed that affect the tag trajectory. Further development leveraging AI and computer vision could additionally enable assisted targeting where the UAS could automatically track specific features on an individual. In addition to this deployment capability, the UAS should additionally include the ability to collect high-resolution imagery of marine mammals with associated range and geo-spatial information.


Note: Phase I performers should review appropriate guidance required for animal research protocols at Animal Use Research Requirements | Office of Naval Research ( so they have the information to use while preparing their Phase II Initial Proposal [Ref 6]. Institutional Review Board (IRB) determination as well as processing, submission, and review of all paperwork required for animal use can be a lengthy process and should be started in the Phase I Option period. Animal research will not be allowed until Phase II and work will not be authorized until approval has been obtained, typically as an Option to be exercised during Phase II.


PHASE I: Develop concepts and determine feasibility of adapting COTS UAS technologies with payloads and technology suitable for percutaneous tag deployment in a compact, efficient, and cost-effective design, including the identification of components to increase propulsive force and accuracy. Develop key component technology milestones and conceptual designs for hardware. Prepare a Phase II plan.


Note: Please refer to the statement included in the Description above regarding animal research protocol for Phase II.


PHASE II: Develop prototype payloads and technology hardware based on the Phase I effort. Establish hardware performance and develop a conceptual plan for integration into a COTS compact UAS system. A prototype should be delivered at the end of Phase II, ready for integration and testing by the Government.


Note: Please refer to the statement included in the Description above regarding animal research protocol for Phase II.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Successful adaptation of a COTS compact UAS and development of payload suitable for percutaneous tag deployment will open tremendous opportunities for small businesses to provide marine mammal monitoring capabilities to a wide range of government agencies having equities in marine life issues. For example, NOAA National Marine Fisheries, National Ocean Service, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others would benefit from this capability. A key goal of this phase will be making the technology available to the broader research and Navy communities.



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Office of Naval Research. Animal Use Research Requirements.


KEYWORDS: Unmanned aerial systems; drone; tag attachment; tag deployment; marine mammals; monitoring; percutaneous tag; anchored tag