Beyond IoT: Internet of Underwater Things to Network the Oceans

Beyond IoT: Internet of Underwater Things to Network the Oceans

By Rajeswari Jayaraman

The grand goal of the Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT) is to create a worldwide network of smart interconnected underwater objects and to digitally link our oceans, streams, and lakes.

The current count of IoT devices is about 9 billion (excluding smartphones, tablets, and computers) and estimated to reach 30 billion by 2020. While there are ambitious terrestrial initiatives like Google’s Project Loon and Facebook’s Aquila drone, which are trying to digitally connect every rural and remote corner of the land, we’re missing out on connecting underwater.

Oceans and lakes cover three quarters of the earth. It is only natural for scientists and engineers to extend the concept of IoT into the oceans.

The Vision of Internet of Underwater Things:

IoUT would enable a system of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) communicating with each other, collecting data, and transmitting to control centers above the surface at regular internet speeds. Apart from effective management of our planet’s resources, the information can be used for a wide variety of tasks such as surveying crashes and shipwrecks, detecting early signs of tsunamis, monitoring health of animals, as well as creating interactive real-time aquatic education, archaeological expeditions, and ecological monitoring applications.

Technological Challenges for IoUT:

The established concepts of IoT cannot simply extend to underwater since the conditions are very different from land. This poses serious challenges for scientists and engineers to tackle before IoUT can become reality. Some practical challenges are listed below:

  1. Signal transmission underwater is limited and not as effective compared to air. For example, radio waves used by conventional Wi-Fi networks can travel only a few meters at most underwater.
  2. Signal interference from waves, passing ships, or background noise from marine life
  3. Achieving reliable response to rapidly changing environment – from salinity to the temperature of the water
  4. Huge costs of implementing sensors and submarine AUVs
  5. Chemical and UV radiation resistance of IoUT clients has to be stronger than for home devices.

Status and Future Directions: The SUNRISE Project at a glance:

Thanks to the SUNRISE project supported by the EU with a €4,000,000 budget coordinating 40 international marine researchers, prototypes of underwater robots have already been developed and tested. The robots communicate by mimicking marine animals, i.e. using acoustic signals but at reduced power and wave frequencies that do not interfere with the animals. Eventually, this means the bandwidth is limited and the transmission rates are slow. The team has already shown that underwater drones can communicate and respond to simple instructions and transmit data in real-time. The drones talk to each other using an Esperanto-like language called Janus. The prototype drones tested in the Mediterranean Sea already helped locate a lost cargo container in the port of Porto (Portugal).

Researchers are also experimenting with optical signals, which are short ranged, but have a high bandwidth and a mix of technologies and software architecture to enable communication in different bodies of water. With the testbeds up and running, the system is ready to be tested in diverse marine environments covering the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the Atlantic and some shallow waters.

Like the early days of  information technology, IoUT is currently in the R&D phase driven by state-funded organizations. And soon, once the communication between the underwater things is technically stable and the software architectures established, a new kind of Wi-Fi is helping to keep you up to date of the Underwater News!

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