The Plan to Conquer the Internet's Final Frontier: The Deep Sea

Wireless internet is ubiquitous just about anywhere you can send radio waves, from airplanes to ski lifts. One place left conspicuously untouched by open wireless, though, is the ocean. Now, a team of scientists is developing a system of sensors that would connect one of the few remaining unconnected places on Earth.

Today, a team of researchers from University of Buffalo unveiled a paper (PDF) documenting their work to build a "deep sea internet" using a framework of connected sensors. "A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time," said electrical engineering professor Tommaso Melodia in a press release. "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."

Even though deep sea cables have carried internet through water for decades, there's no such thing as an actual underwater network. Why not? Because radio waves—which is to say, conventional wireless signals—don't pass through water very well. So instead, we use sound waves to communicate beneath the sea. But that's not perfect either, since you can't use sonar to communicate with the world above the ocean.

To bridge the two systems—above and below the sea—scientists employ a piecemeal approach. A team monitoring sea life will use sonar to communicate readings from deep sea sensors to a buoy floating on the surface. That buoy converts those acoustic waves into radio waves, which are picked up by a satellite and then, finally, beamed back to a central computer. It's a fragmented approach, and there's a different architecture for every organization out there.

The Plan to Conquer the Internet's Final Frontier: The Deep Sea

The team from Buffalo want to change that by creating a network of underwater sensors that would provide a common communication framework for everyone working in the ocean. For example, scientists monitoring seismic activity on the ocean's floor could use it to give advanced warning about impending tsunamis. Likewise, the system could let police detect drug smugglers using tiny submarines to ferry shipments ashore. It could even let independent researchers—or students—carry out their own experiments remotely using data from the sensors.

So who will control this network? And who will decide who gets to use it?? And who is paying for it??! Keep in mind, this is a study—not a proposal for implementation. Legally speaking, there's much left up to the imagination. For now the team plans to continue working on the sheer feasibility of the concept, and eventually, their design could provide the basis for a real-life test. Until then, it'll remain a piece of oceanic lore—like Poseidon, or Blueseed. [PhysOrg]

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