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Wsense’s undersea IoT could move us out of the ‘Tragic Quadrant’
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Wsense’s undersea IoT could move us out of the ‘Tragic Quadrant’

Posted by Zenobia HegdeJanuary 11, 2017

Did you know that whales can communicate with each other when they are divided by 3,000 miles of ocean, simply by sending their coded audio messages through sea water? Their choice of atmosphere conducts sound at five times the speed of our gaseous one, says Nick Booth. Dolphins, too, have pretty impressive signalling techniques across ‘the briny’.

In terms of bri-fi technology, humans are only the third best mammals in underwater communications. As our friends at Gartner Research might put it, the Oceanic Networking Market covers 66% of the globe and, if global warming experts are right, the sea is set to cover even more of the globe by 2020. So, whales and porpoises lead in Oceanic Networking, the biggest comms territory on the planet, while Homo Sapiens Systems occupy what analysts might call the Tragic Quadrant.

Professor Chiara Petrioli – Photo Credit: Marco Merola. Professor Chiara Petrioli from University of Rome La Sapienza’s Department of Computer Science. She’s coordinator of the SUNRISE project.

Our place in the world could sink lower in years to come if reports about Gulf Stream disruption are to be believed. Surely we need more information on this.

This is where companies like Wsense could come to our rescue. This is a spin-off company to commercialise the work of the Cyber Physical Systems Lab at the University of Rome. In this seat of learning, Professor Chiara Petrioli has led research into creating new methods of sending signals through water and techniques to eliminate the ‘fuzz’ created by various obstacles. It has five patents for various software techniques which comms equipment makers can use once the ‘undersea IoT’ becomes a mainstream activity.

Gathering more accurate information about the underwater environment is the primary objective of the fleet of autonomous drone submarines that Wsense has designed.

Each of its Noptilus 3 drone submarines has the capacity for underwater mapping and phenomenon tracking, with sensors for everything that matters in the marine environment, from salinity through chemical composition, CO2 and methane levels, to temperature. It measures everything you might need to track, for example, all the shifting variables in the Gulf Stream.

Photo Credit: Marco Merola. Light Autonomous Underwater Vehicles ready to use before an experiment run in the bay area of Porto, Portugal in 2014. The machines were assembled by the University of Porto, a SUNRISE project partner.

In addition to all these sensors, these underwater robots have a range of communications including radio and satellite — for surface communication — and a complete range of underwater comms. The undersea IoT equipment range includes modems from Evologics, Kongsberg, Teledyne Benthos and Applicon, as well as WHOI Micro-Modems. There is an in-built battery with an eight-hour lifetime.

The application range could be huge. In an early trial, a fleet of these submarines was used to find a lost shipping container lurking underwater in the docks of Porto. Another related application, that has also been explored in Portugal, is to examine the state of the undersides of ships. Lost shipping containers are a massive danger, since once they fall overboard they lurk just below the water level, too heavy to float into view but too full of air to sink.

Any boat that crashes into them will be damaged or even destroyed and there are, as an average over recent years, 733* of these dangerous depth charges created annually. The plan at the moment is to locate them and sink them. Which sounds a bit wasteful. Isn’t it possible to create a more ambitious Plan B, where robot submarines refloat these containers and tow them to the nearest port or get them hoiked up onto a ship?

Photo Credit: Salvo Emma. A LAUV (Light Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) approaching some marble columns dating back to 1st century B.C. in the sea of Marzamemi (Siracusa, Sicily). This archaeological investigation ran in 2015.

Still, there are bigger and better projects to embark upon because the potential for underwater IoT is huge. It’s not just oceans that can be charted and cleaned up by robots, but the threatened environments of the black sea, lakes and canals. There are endless archaeological wonders submerged by the sea, including at least 10 ancient underwater cities. Let’s hope we find them and fully appreciate them fully before they get buried under a massive pile of fallen shipping containers.

Maybe, once the sunken wall of giant metal building blocks gets high enough, it could divert the Gulf Stream back onto its proper course. That could be a Plan C, but we won’t have the data on that until Wsense gets its fleet together. Come on, Professor Petrioli, what are you waiting for?

* Source: World Cargo News

The author of this blog is Nick Booth, freelance IT and communications writer.

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Zenobia Hegde

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