World - Submerged Signals: MIT Unveils Pioneering Development in Underwater Communication Technology

MIT’s breakthrough underwater communication system uses minimal power to transmit signals over kilometer-scale distances. Leveraging underwater backscatter and innovative design principles, the technology has potential applications in aquaculture, climate modeling, and hurricane prediction.

The system could be used for battery-free underwater communication across kilometer-scale distances, to aid monitoring of climate and coastal change.

MIT researchers have demonstrated the first system for ultra-low-power underwater networking and communication, which can transmit signals across kilometer-scale distances.

This technique, which the researchers began developing several years ago, uses about one millionth the power that existing underwater communication methods use. By expanding their battery-free system’s communication range, the researchers have made the technology more feasible for applications such as aquaculture, coastal hurricane prediction, and climate change modeling.

“What started as a very exciting intellectual idea a few years ago — underwater communication with a million times lower power — is now practical and realistic. There are still a few interesting technical challenges to address, but there is a clear path from where we are now to deployment,” says Fadel Adib, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of the Signal Kinetics group in the MIT Media Lab.

The Power of Underwater Backscatter

Underwater backscatter enables low-power communication by encoding data in sound waves that it reflects, or scatters, back toward a receiver. These innovations enable reflected signals to be more precisely directed at their source.

Due to this “retrodirectivity,” less signal scatters in the wrong directions, allowing for more efficient and longer-range communication.

When tested in a river and an ocean, the retrodirective device exhibited a communication range that was more than 15 times farther than previous devices. However, the experiments were limited by the length of the docks available to the researchers.

To better understand the limits of underwater backscatter, the team also developed an analytical model to predict the technology’s maximum range. The model, which they validated using experimental data, showed that their retrodirective system could communicate across kilometer-scale distances.

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