NATO researchers have developed the first ever international standard for underwater communications called JANUS. Named after the Roman god of gateways, JANUS will allow aquatic systems to communicate by transferring data much like devices on a Wi-Fi or cellular network. JANUS would allow robots used for underwater research, mining, and military operations to communicate using a standard 11.5kHz frequency which can transmit data at a range of 1-10 kilometers. Chiara Petroli, a specialist in underwater sensors and embedded systems at the University of Rome believes this is the first step towards an “Internet of Underwater Things”.
Aquatic robots are busier than ever. They have seabeds to mine, cable pathways to plough, and marine data to gather. But they and their aquatic brethren—including submarines and scuba divers—still struggle to communicate.
For decades, global standards defining Wi-Fi and cellular networks have allowed people to exchange data over the air. But those technologies are worthless below the waves, and no such standards have existed for underwater communications.
Aquatic systems have instead used a mishmash of acoustic and optical signals to send and receive messages. However, manufacturers sell acoustic modems that operate at many different frequencies, which means those systems often can’t speak to each other.
“We live in a time of wild west communications underwater,” says João Alves, a principal scientist for NATO.
Now, Alves and other NATO researchers have established the first international standard for underwater communications. Named JANUS, after the Roman god of gateways, it creates a common protocol for an acoustic signal with which underwater systems can connect.
Acoustics has long been a popular medium for underwater communications. Generally, optical signals can deliver high data rates underwater at distances up to 100 meters, while sound waves cover much greater distances at lower data rates.
The main role of JANUS is to bring today’s acoustic systems into sync with one another. It does this in part by defining a common frequency—11.5 kilohertz—over which all systems can announce their presence. Once two systems make contact through JANUS, they may decide to switch to a different frequency or protocol that could deliver higher data rates or travel further.
In this way, Alves compares JANUS to the English language—two visitors to a foreign country may speak English to one another before realizing they are both native Spanish speakers, and switch to their native tongue.
Chiara Petrioli, a specialist in underwater sensors and embedded systems at La Sapienza, the University of Rome, says JANUS could be the first step toward an “Internet of Underwater Things”—a submerged digital network of sensors and vessels.
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