International organization designs first ever acoustic communications standard in a step towards an Internet of Underwater Things.
There has been a growing trend toward smart cities that use open standards for seamless aerial and terrestrial data sharing. We’ve seen auto-tinting windows, and clothes fitted with wireless tags that request to be donated if rarely worn. However, this so-called Internet of Things (IoT) has yet to enter the ocean. Underwater communication capabilities are currently manufacturer-specific, with submarines and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) employing a mishmash of incompatible proprietary technologies. Given that 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, a standard ‘language’ for underwater communications is long overdue.
NATO’s Italy-based Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation has designed the world’s first international standard for digital underwater communication, and is formally recognised by all NATO Allies. Named after the Roman god of openings, JANUS creates a common protocol for an acoustic signal which connects all marine systems into an Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT). Underwater vehicles, robots and sensors can communicate and relay near real-time data via ‘gateway buoys’ to surface-based operators.
JANUS sets a baseline frequency of 11.5 kilohertz for all acoustic systems to announce themselves. Once two systems ‘discover’ each other, they can create ad hoc networks at different frequencies for extended communication. The platform is deliberately simple to allow easy adoption by legacy equipment. Project leader João Alves compares JANUS to the English language: ‘two visitors to a foreign country might speak English with one another before realizing they are both native Spanish speakers, and switch to their preferred tongue’.
According to CMRE, JANUS can transmit ‘any kind of information’, and facilitate new and more cost-effective ways of interacting with the subsea environment. Examples include search-and-rescue operations, harbor protection, seismic detection, ecological monitoring, archeological surveys or even interactive real-time aquatic education. They hope that JANUS can enable interoperability between NATO and non-NATO, military and civilian maritime assets.