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How underwater Internet of Things will work

More than two-thirds of the world’s surface is covered by water. It plays an important role in our economic existence, including in major verticals such as oil and gas, shipping and tourism.

As the Internet of Things proliferates, questions arise as to how IoT will manifest itself underwater given that radio waves degrade over distance in seawater, and underwater acoustic communication (which does actually work okay) is easily eavesdropped on and isn’t stealthy.

To make the underwater Internet of Things happen, light is the answer, some say. Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, are proposing underwater optical communications. They’re investigating simultaneous lightwave information and power transfer (SLIPT) configurations, which they’re using to transmit energy and data to underwater electronic devices. Recently, the researchers announced a breakthrough experiment in which they were able to achieve an underwater, two-way transmission of data and power over 1.5 yards between a solar panel-equipped sensor and a receiver.

The SLIPT system will be more usable than wires strung. And in the case of human underwater equipment inspections, for example, SLIPT will be less prone to error than hand signals and less prone to audible confusion than ultrasound voice-based communicators. Remarkably, to this day, hand signals are still a common form of communication between divers.

“SLIPT can help charge devices in inaccessible locations where continuous powering is costly or not possible,” said Jose Filho, a PhD student at KAUST, in an article on the school’s web site.

Filho, who has been involved in developing the laser project, envisages ships or boats on the water’s surface beaming optical communications to underwater vehicles or IoT sensors on the ocean floor. The lasers would simultaneously communicate with and power underwater robots and devices. Return data is relayed to the surface vessel, which then communicates to land bases or data centers via RF (radio).

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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