A wireless communications network could soon enable autonomous underwater instruments to collect information, talk to each other, and transfer data at regular Internet speeds, thanks to the collaborative Sunrise project.
Researchers are experimenting with boosting the bandwidth and speed of existing underwater acoustic modems, which transmit information through water with sound waves. The Sunrise team in Italy is working on devising a common language with which underwater drones can communicate with each other.
Practice experiments for the new technologies are made difficult by the ocean's salinity and temperature differences, but the systems are getting sturdier, says Johns Hopkins University professor Louis Whitcomb. He recently completed an oceanographic expedition north of the Arctic Circle using underwater drones. The drones had to surface every few minutes and send data in 64-byte packets once per minute, with each package taking six seconds to transmit.
"We're not going to be able to push HD TV over an acoustic modem anytime soon," Whitcomb says. "But we have a range of technologies and we will see the development of vehicles that will bridge these communications regimes."
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