A researcher at the Northeastern University is looking to improve underwater communications, but first she decided to explain why is this necessary by giving the Titanic as an example. Milica Stojanovic reminds us that the big boat sank in 1912 and that we knew approximately where it was, but it took almost 73 years to discover the exact location of the Titanic.
The passenger liner was discovered thanks to an imaging vehicle of the Woods Hole Oceanographic which was far from being a perfect robot – it was heavy and moved slowly because it required cables (I guess I don’t have to specify the fact that these cables are very expensive). Better underwater wireless communications would mean that the imaging machines would not require expensive cables, and no cables would mean that the robots will become more agile in the water.
“When the Titanic sank, people knew approximately where it went down, but it wasn’t until Woods Hole designed that small robotic vehicle that we knew the truth. When that robot was sent down, it was attached to a long cable connecting it to a surface ship. The cables are very expensive and heavy, and they limit the movement of the robot. There are applications that would greatly benefit from the ability to communicate underwater without cables,” said Stojanovic.
If we would improve underwater wireless communications, it will have enormous implications in various industries and domains, including offshore oil industry, fishing industry, aquaculture, pollution control, ocean monitoring, object detection, and climate recording. Stojanovic underlined the importance of above water wireless communications as they brought us wireless Internet and cellphone connections among others. However, underwater communications remain far behind so Stojanovic dares us to think of the benefits that this technology will bring.
“Oceans cover about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and much of this vast resource remains to be explored,” she said.
The Northeastern University researchers also thinks about the dangers that can be found in the water and thinks of another importance of the underwater wireless communications.
“There is a need to improve the wireless communication capacity of underwater robots. Just think about the dangers of landmines. We also have underwater mines. We need robots that can find and neutralize the mines beneath the water [without endangering humans]. These robots need to be able to talk to each other if they are going to perform their task efficiently,” said Stojanovic.
However, wireless underwater communications bring a lot of problems as water slows down the signal, it creates a background noise, and echos. Stojanovic is now focusing to eliminate the echo issue and to get better signals thanks to equalization. Also, she wants to develop underwater wireless networks, but the slow speed is not an advantage at all.
“If multiple people talk at the same time, their signals will collide. We need protocols that will orchestrate multiple conversations,” she said.
For the moment the study is only at the beginning with minimum results so far. What should we expect? Well, Stojanovic forgot to mention that. So, what do you think? Is it possible to desing underwater wireless communications?