Much has been said and done regarding the Internet of Things (IoT) across the terrestrial and aerial environments – just look at the proliferation of robotics, drones and unmanned vehicles being used across the globe. But, what about our submarine world? Does the IoT only apply to systems above water?This week we are going to take a “deep dive” into the life aquatic and see what forms the IoT is taking underwater.

As many scientists and researchers continue to demonstrate, there is much to be learned about life underwater, especially when it comes to the largest bodies of water on the planet – the seas and oceans. The development of an Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT) would certainly help make the discovery, recording and transmission of information a lot easier, especially if it would in turn be limiting the manual intervention of humans. Collecting and transmitting data throughout large bodies of water could enable a system of roaming, autonomous vehicles and underwater sensors, all communicating with each other and relaying information to networks above the surface. This could be used for a wide range of underwater tasks, from pipeline repairs and crash site surveys to seismic and ecological monitoring applications.

As Richard Mills, director of sales at Norwegian AUV and marine robot developer Kongsberg Maritimestates in an interview with , “there are an incredible number of possibilities for IoUT and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The technology has finite bounds, but new applications are only limited by our imagination.”

Underwater Apps Bound by Tech Limits

Before the IoUT can become a practical endeavor, engineers, scientists and researchers still have plenty of work to do to make it a reality. One of the biggest challenges surrounding the IoUT is the fact that underwater data communications are somewhat limited and unconventional as compared to the systems that work above water. The science behind underwater communications requires different thinking and technology requirements – for example,  the electromagnetic waves used by conventional WiFi networks only travel a few centimeters in water. Furthermore, background noise from marine life and anthropogenic activity can also lead to signal interference.

Also, the cost of implementing remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) comes at a significant cost as compared to autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which looks to be the replacement in the near future. An AUV’s ability to function without manual human intervention is already a huge advantage and the cost of deploying an AUV is significantly lower than that of an ROV, while their autonomous nature minimizes the human effort needed during missions.

As the IoUT develops, it will facilitate new ways for AUVs to interact with the subsea environment. Such vehicles increasingly will be used to harvest data from instruments on the seabed for scientific monitoring and surveying oilfield infrastructure, for example. With better submarine communications, the use of AUVs is already diversifying. There is an increasing number of deep-water and under-ice research projects, and new applications in defense and shallow-water seabed imagery rising to the surface.

At FreeWave, we’ll be keeping a close eye on these developments as the possibilities for underwater IoT applications abound.

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