News / Science & Technology

Underwater Wi-Fi Could Provide 'Deep-Sea Internet'

Doctoral candidates in Melodia's lab, Hossain and Kulhandjian (above), dropped two 40-pound sensors into the water and then typed a command into a laptop. (Credit: Douglas Levere)
Doctoral candidates in Melodia's lab, Hossain and Kulhandjian (above), dropped two 40-pound sensors into the water and then typed a command into a laptop. (Credit: Douglas Levere)

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Researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York are developing an underwater wireless network they’re dubbing a “deep-sea” Internet.

If successful, it could lead to improvements in tsunami detection, offshore oil and natural gas exploration, surveillance, pollution monitoring and other activities.

“A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time," said Tommaso Melodia an associate professor of electrical engineering and the project’s lead researcher. “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.”

Land-based wireless networks rely on radio waves that transmit data via satellites and antennae. Unfortunately, radio waves work poorly underwater. This is why agencies like the Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use sound wave-based techniques to communicate underwater.

For example, NOAA relies on acoustic waves to send data from tsunami sensors on the seafloor to surface buoys. The buoys convert the acoustic waves into radio waves to send the data to a satellite, which then redirects the radio waves back to land-based computers. This can be a cumbersome process because each system has a different infrastructure.

The framework Melodia is developing also uses sound and would solve that problem. It would transmit data from existing and planned underwater sensor networks to laptops, smartphones and other wireless devices in real time.

The system was recently tested in Lake Erie. Melodia and his fellow researchers lowered two, 40-pound sensors into the water, typed a command into a laptop, and seconds later a series of high-pitched chirps ricocheted off a nearby concrete wall, which, researchers say, showed the test worked.

Melodia says the implications are many.

"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."

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