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Researchers work to develop wireless Internet underwater

University at Buffalo researchers are developing an underwater internet system.  The wireless network aims to improve the detection of tsunamis and potentially save lives. The deep-sea system integrates acoustic underwater networks with the Internet.

A network of acoustic sensors placed on the ocean floor collects data. That information is then sent up to a buoy on the surface, where it’s converted into radio waves.

Hovannes Kulhandjian is one of PhD student working on the project at UB. He says satellites can pick up the data in those radio waves and then send them directly to people’s personal computers or cell phones for free.

“Since we have this system someone with a cell phone can receive the message that you have to run, evacuate this place. So, that could save lives,” said Kulhandjian.

UB associate professor Tomasso Melodia is spearheading the project. He says other systems that are similar have a small capacity for transferring data. He explains that it’s like using dial-up internet in the water.

The underwater sensors are also collecting information that can be useful for surveillance.

“I was just reading in a book that a lot of the illegal drug smuggling that happens in North America comes from submarines in the Pacific Ocean. So, you could use this technology to detect underwater submarines,” said Melodia.

Melodia says eventually, the military will be able to use this technology to keep waterways safe. He says the Internet underwater is different from wireless networks used on land, because it does not absorb frequency waves created in water. 

“Since World War II people have been using acoustic waves to communicate underwater, and what we are trying to do at UB is develop a better, faster, more reliable underwater network based on acoustic communications,” said Melodia.

The underwater application could also provide useful information to scuba divers, marine biologists, or to the energy industry searching for oil and gas. Melodia says it has many possibilities.

“Other applications for it are monitoring the ocean to try and understand how the underwater currents in the ocean or in the Great Lakes affect pollution. You could monitor the composition of water in different areas and how those change over time, and how currents contribute to weather and climate change,” said Melodia.

The Internet underwater research team is continuing to test the system in their UB research lab. They’re getting ready to present it at a conference in Taiwan in November.

“We had tests throughout the summer in Lake LaSalle at UB, and then recently we tested the technology in Lake Erie,” said Melodia.

Melodia says he and his team will continue to make the system faster and more reliable in an emergency situation.


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