News

Submarine breakthrough: MIT develops a wireless system to allow subs to communicate with aircraft

File photo U.S. submarine New Mexico is seen during the NATO-Dynamic Manta 2017 anti-submarine warfare exercise in the port of Catania, southern Italy, 13 March 2017. Photo taken on March 13, 2017. (REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello)

Researchers from MIT have developed a system that helps to resolve a long-standing problem in wireless communication – how to use the data directly from a submarine, a plane or drone.

“Today, underwater sensors cannot share data with those on the land, as both use different wireless signals that only work in their respective media. Radio signals that travel through the air to die very fast in the water,” says MIT, in a statement. “Acoustic signals, or sonar, sent by underwater devices typically reflect off the surface without ever breaking through. This leads to inefficiencies and other things for a variety of applications such as ocean exploration and submarine-to-aircraft communication.”

MIT Media Lab scientists detail their findings in a paper presented this week at the SIGCOMM conference in Budapest, Hungary. The researchers have made use of an underwater transmitter sends a sonar signal to the surface of the water, which causes small vibrations corresponding to the “1s and 0s” is transmitted in binary data. “Above the surface, a very sensitive receiver reads these minute disorders and decodes the sonar signal,” they explain, in a statement.

MH370 DISASTER: HOW NEW SPACE TECH CAN KEEP OF AIRCRAFT

The Media Lab aims to promote “the unconventional mixing and matching of seemingly disparate research areas.”

(Image: Christine Daniloff/MIT)

Although the system, called Translational Acoustic-RF Communications (TARF), is still in its relative infancy, its potential for both military and ocean research.

“The use of the system, military submarines, for example, would not need to surface to communicate with aircraft, compromising their location,” says MIT. “And underwater drones that monitor marine life would not have to constantly resurface from deep diving to send data to the researchers.”

STERN OF US WW II DESTROYER DISCOVERED NEAR REMOTE ALASKA ISLAND: SURVIVOR TELLS THE HARROWING DAY

There are drawbacks to the current systems that are used to deal with the underwater communication problem. Buoys, for example, are designed to pick up sonar waves, to process the data, and to shoot radio signals in the air receivers, according to MIT. The buoys, however, can wander off and get lost, and large numbers are required to cover large areas.

The system could also help in the search for the aircraft missing at sea. “Acoustic beacons transmitting can be implemented in, for example, an aircraft black box,” said Fadel Adib, an assistant professor in the MIT Media Lab, who is leading this research. “If it sends out a signal every once in a while, would you be able to get the system to pick up that signal.”

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 more than four years ago, has thrust a spotlight on technologies that could possibly help with the aircraft tracking and location of underwater crash sites.

Adib co-author of the paper with MIT-student, Francesco Tonolini. The research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular