A deep-sea Internet system
Oct. 21, 2013
by Mark Ollig

State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) researchers are working on a project for allowing submerged devices in the ocean to directly access the Internet.

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

When thinking wireless networks, we usually envision radio signals communicating via antennas with land-based towers, or a GPS navigation system using Earth orbiting satellites.

Consider how NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) currently obtains tsunami information from electronic sensors on the seafloor.

These sensors transmit data via aural or acoustic wave frequencies to floating buoys, or markers, on the ocean’s surface.

The acoustic waves are then converted into high-bandwidth (64 kbps or higher) signals which are transmitted up to a satellite. The signals are then redirected to satellite receivers on the ground.

The information acquired from the electronic sensors on the seafloor is made available to the computers linked to the Internet Cloud.

This data is protected via an Internet firewall.

Melodia confirms many systems worldwide use this model; however, it is challenging to share this information with others because different kinds of systems employ their own types of unique data infrastructures.

Also, I learned propagation (transmission) delays can be encountered using current underwater networking systems.

The new underwater network Melodia is suggesting would provide for existing and new undersea sensors to transmit their data instantaneously to smart devices, laptops, and other types of devices via a commonly used information transmission control protocol.

We know the Internet has rules for how our computers, laptops, and wireless smart devices communicate and share data.

That’s right folks; it’s the TCP/IP or Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol standard.

This protocol standard (including IPv6 revisions) is what Melodia wants to see being used for the data transmissions from undersea sensors.

Melodia said using this type of framework (networking) would allow linking together undersea buoys which would detect tsunamis.

He feels this sort of communication network between them would be valuable in providing a more reliable warning to coastal residents who would be affected by a sensor’s detection of tsunamis.

Another advantage of using TCP/IP is that it’s designed for high-performance communication and is not subject to propagation delays. Also, information would be collected from the undersea sensors in real-time, thus making the sensors data more readily available, and timely.

Energy savings would also be realized using TCP/IP architecture because it would not consume as much power as traditional RF (Radio Frequency) wireless underwater devices such as sensors, relay-nodes, and modems do.

A recent underwater test was conducted just south of downtown Buffalo, in Lake Erie.

Two doctoral candidates who work in Melodia’s lab; Hovannes Kulhandjian and Zahed Hossain, released two 40-pound sensors into the lake from their boat on Lake Erie.

They then typed a command into a laptop computer, which communicated with the sensor in the lake. Within seconds, a sequence of high-pitched chirps were being monitored – confirming their test had worked.

“The Internet Underwater: An IP-compatible Protocol Stack for Commercial Undersea Modems” is a 2013 research paper Melodia and Yifan Sun collaborated on.

This paper describes, in extreme detail, how TCP/IP would work with devices in an underwater networking environment.

The research paper also envisions users accessing information from underwater sensors using any Internet connected device.

A drawing shows an example of how a Subnet 2 network of underwater sensors or nodes would send their TCP/IP data to a surface ship, which would then transmit the data via 3G cellular signaling into the traditional IP-based network we access.

You can view this drawing at: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-seasensors.

Work on undersea devices using an IP-compatible network is supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Someday, undersea buoys could provide a wealth of real-time information easily accessible over the Internet. They will tell us about their environment, water temperatures, and many will even have cameras attached to them for us to observe their surroundings.

On a future vacation, we may be accessing data from undersea buoys using the Internet while scuba diving off a tropical island.

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