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Protocols Linking Underwater Devices to Internet Proposed

Tommaso Melodia

Tommaso Melodia (University at Buffalo)

Engineers from University at Buffalo in New York are proposing a common set of wireless protocols for connecting underwater sensors, like those detecting tsunamis, to the land-based Internet. Electrical engineering professor Tommaso Melodia and graduate student Yifan Sun will present their proposal next month at ACM’s International Conference on Underwater Networks & Systems in Taiwan.

Land-based radio transmissions for exchanging signals do not work well underwater, and as a result transmissions from submerged sensors to detect earthquake tremors or test for the presence of underseas minerals use sonic waves for sending their data to receivers on the surface. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, connects its sensors to floating buoys that convert sonic waves to radio signals for uplinks to satellites that relay the signals to NOAA’s computers.

While this approach works fine for communications within organizations or predefined networks, each implementation has its own data exchange protocols, which makes sharing of undersea data among these networks difficult. Melodia and colleagues are proposing a common set of specifications to make the exchange of data among networks using undersea devices more feasible and interoperable.

The common specifications add a new adaption layer in the standard Internet protocol stack that compresses housekeeping message data and reduces fragmentation, making the transmissions more energy-efficient. Melodia believes this paradigm would make it easier to communicate data from the oceans with laptops, smartphones, and other devices on the surface in real time. “Making this information available to anyone with a smartphone or computer,” says Melodia in a university statement, “especially when a tsunami or other type of disaster occurs, could help save lives.”

The researchers built a prototype system based on the proposed architecture and tested the concept in Lake Erie, south of Buffalo. Doctoral candidates Hovannes Kulhandjian and Zahed Hossain built two sensor devices, each weighing 40 pounds, and submerged the devices in lake. Kulhandjian typed a command into a laptop that sent the command with a wireless signal according to the proposed protocols. The submerged sensors read and relayed the signals back to the surface, generating high-pitched chirps from a receiving device a few seconds later, indicating receipt of the signals.

Melodia and colleagues feel common protocols linking undersea devices to terrestial networks can be applied to a range of commercial, public safety, law enforcement, and military needs. The energy industry, for example, uses seismic waves to test for underseas oil and natural gas reserves, thus common protocols would make it easier for companies to collaborate in exploration for new oil and gas fields. Other applications include earthquake and tsunami monitoring, pollution tracking, and catching drug smugglers in specially configured submarines to evade detection.

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