New Underwater Internet Could Save Lives

February 27, 2014

A new underwater wireless network developed by University at Buffalo researchers could mean individuals may one day receive alerts regarding a fast-approaching tsunami right from their phone.

“A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time,” Tommaso Melodia, UB associate professor of electrical engineering and the project’s lead researcher, said in a statement. “Making this information available to anyone with a smartphone or computer, especially when a tsunami or other type of disaster occurs, could help save lives.”

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The system works by connecting underwater sensor networks to wireless devices in real time — a task that has proven difficult in the past since land-based wireless networks use radio waves, which work poorly underwater. As a result, researchers working underwater often rely on sound wave-based techniques. NOAA, for example, uses acoustic waves to transmit data from tsunami sensors on the seafloor to surface buoys where they are converted into radio waves. These radio waves transmit the data to a satellite, and the satellite sends the radio waves back to computers.

However, while many systems employ this same process, they often do so using different infrastructure, making it difficult to share data between them. Melodia and his colleagues’ framework would change this by transmitting data from underwater sensor networks to smartphones and laptops instantaneously.

The team tested the system in Lake Erie where they dropped two, 40-pound sensors in the water and then typed a command from a laptop. Moments later, the researchers heard a series of noises indicating the system worked.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the network amounts to a deep-sea Internet and could, the researchers say, encourage collaboration among separate entities, resulting in a freer flow of information and data needed in the capture, for instance, of drug smugglers operating makeshift submarines.

“We could even use it to monitor fish and marine mammals, and find out how to best protect them from shipping traffic and other dangers,” Melodia said. “An Internet underwater has so many possibilities.”

Originally posted 2013-10-16 14:01:55.

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