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Underwater Wi-Fi may soon be a reality because why not?


UB researchers prepare to test their underwater Wi-Fi system

Humanity is one step closer to realizing the glorious, super-useful dream of underwater Internet access.

That’s right, a team of researchers at the University of Buffalo have successfully tested an “underwater network architecture” that could one day provide Wi-Fi connections deep under the sea.

What on Earth would we want that for, you ask? Not uploading photos to Instagram or posting tweets – though, technically, you probably could. Instead, says Tommaso Melodina, an associate professor of electrical engineering at UB and the project’s lead researcher, underwater Wi-Fi could help researchers monitor the oceans, save lives by detecting tsunamis and earthquakes earlier than current systems, and even help law enforcement stop crafty drug traffickers.

“A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time,” said Melodina in a statement. “Making this information available to anyone with a smartphone or computer, especially when a tsunami or other type of disaster occurs, could help save lives.”

When it comes to underwater Wi-Fi, the challenge has been finding another way to transfer data across the network. Land-based systems, like your home Wi-Fi router, use radio waves to communicate. The problem is, radio waves completely crap out under water. Fortunately, acoustic waves (sounds) travel great in water. It’s for this reason that, say, submarines use sonar to power their navigation system. Melodina’s team took that principle and applied it to an Internet connection.

Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, Melodina and his team were recently able to test out their underwater Wi-Fi system in Lake Erie. The team dropped two 40-pound sensors into the water, which connected to a relay buoy on the surface that converts a radio Wi-Fi signal into an acoustic one. Seconds after launching the test, the team detected “a series of high-pitched chirps,” which “ricocheted of a nearby conccete wall,” according to the university’s release, proving that their underwater networking solution worked.

If you want to make yourself feel stupid, feel free to check out the team’s paper, “The Internet Underwater: An IP-compatible Protocol Stack for Commercial Undersea Modems,” on exactly how they created underwater Wi-Fi here: PDF.

Now, if they could start working on making waterproof smartphones and laptops, that’d be great.

(Image courtesy Douglas Levere/University of Buffalo)

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