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May 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Coming Soon: Underwater Wi-Fi

from the May, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Two researchers from the University of Buffalo have successfully tested an "underwater network architecture" that might be able to provide underwater Wi-Fi in the near future. But don't think you'll be able to use it to post selfies immediately to Instagram while diving. The researchers, electrical engineering professor Tommaso Melodina and his graduate student Yifan Sun, say their underwater Wi-Fi system will be used to monitor ocean life, detect tsunamis and earthquakes earlier than current technology and even assist police in tracking drug traffickers.

The challenge is to find new forms of transmitting the Wi-Fi signal. On land, Wi-Fi is transmitted using radio waves but they drop out under water. Sound waves, on the other hand, travel great in water, which is why submarines use sonar for navigation. Melodina and Sun took this principal and applied it to their Wi-Fi theory, testing out their system in Lake Erie last fall to some success. They attached 40-pound sensors to a buoy, then dropped them into the water. The buoy, bobbing on the surface, converted the Wi-Fi radio signal into soundwaves. Melodina and Sun then used a laptop to transmit information to the sensors and shortly began detecting "a series of high-pitched chirps" which ricocheted off a nearby concrete wall -- the beginning of a deep-sea Internet system.

"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."

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