With the discovery of smart cities came the Internet of Things (IoT). Keeping the technological aspect in mind, it is IoT that is helping us build smart cities. Today, people and devices (electronics, home appliances etc.) in every corner of the globe are interconnected. The installation of software, sensors, and actuators is enabling us to share data worldwide. These are the bridges that are filling up the gap to support automation and connectivity.
While the common man is still understanding the concept of IoT, the smart city world enters the world of IoUT. In full form, it means the Internet of Underwater Things. You might have heard this concept which is in the nascent stage. But we move deep down to make things clearer!
What Is IoUT?
More than 70% of the Earth lies underwater. The rivers, seas and oceans play a critical role in our life. From our physical and mental wellbeing to our economic existence, we deeply rely on water bodies.
IoT on land is helping places connect with places. However, scientists are taking IoT a step forward to develop IoT underwater i.e, IoUT. In other words, IoUT is a system of unmanned vehicles that scour the marine waters. They communicate with the installed underwater sensors and transmit the data to networks on the land or the water-air boundaries. The transmission happens at the regular internet speed.
Underwater sensors are the major components in the network system. They use nodes with acoustic modems to connect to smart objects and relay data such as temperature, pressure etc.
The next question is how IoUT can benefit us on the land? There are myriad ways IoUT can help us directly or indirectly. But some of them include:
- Protecting all kinds of water bodies.
- Monitoring offshore oil and gas pipelines.
- Early detection of natural disasters like tsunamis.
- Monitoring health of the underwater ecosystem including flora and fauna.
- Performing survey of shipwrecks and crashes.
- Supporting archaeological expeditions and aquatic education.
- Checking underwater pollutants
While there are many advantages of IoUT, there are multiple challenges on the road to its development. The regular internet networks such as WiFi use radio waves for signal transmission.
However, the seawater degrades radio waves underwater over time. Hence, signal transmission underwater is not as powerful as in the air. The radio waves have the capacity to travel for a maximum of a few meters which causes certain limitations.
In addition, background noise from marine life, waves, and passing ships could interfere with the signal. On the other hand, if we talk about privacy or network security, underwater acoustic communication easily eavesdrops.
SLIPT – Encouraging IoUT
To overcome these and many other obstacles, light could be key, say scientists. The light could allow IoUT to emerge as an effective technology. Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia have come up with an idea.
They are suggesting the use of underwater optical communications by investigating the Simultaneous Lightwave Information and Power Transfer (SLIPT) configurations. SLIPT system is considered to be a notably viable option to transmit data to underwater electronic devices.
For instance, SLIPT can help in human underwater equipment inspections. It is more effective than hand signals and is less inclined to audible confusion compared to ultrasound voice-based communicators.
According to researchers, SLIPT can aid in charging devices. This is especially important in inaccessible areas where constant recharging is tough, expensive – or impossible. For instance, it can aid in improving the battery life of automatic underwater vehicles (AUV) to collect data from underwater sensors.
The extended battery life allows AUV to travel long distances and keep the sensors working. It can further connect ships and boats on the surface to underwater vehicles or underwater IoT sensors via optical communications.
The sensors then transmit data to the surface vessels. The latter in turn send the information to data centres on land via radiofrequency. Researchers see potential in SLIPT. Yet there is a lot of room for development before SLIPT gets operational.
Underwater Data Centre
IoUT can play a major role in transmitting data from underwater sensor systems to data centres on land. However, what if data centres are built underwater? Microsoft already has built a data centre off the coast of the Orkney Islands in Scotland.
The data centre called ‘Project Natick’ is the size of a shipping container and a self-contained server room. The centre was submerged on a rock shelf 117 feet below the water’s surface. According to Microsoft spokesperson, Project Natick envisions to support the demand of cloud computing infrastructure near population centres.
The company has cables in the sea enabling people to connect their devices that can transmit data to and from the shore. Furthermore, the deepsea cold water works as a cooling source for the highly-secured data centre. 7℃ water is fed into the fjord by four glaciers. The seawater cools the water circuit from 30℃ to 17℃.
Over half of the world population lives within 120 miles of coastlines. Deploying a data centre underwater means data has to travel a very short distance to reach coastal communities. It helps in faster web surfing, video streaming etc.
In addition, it will also help AI technologies. As far as IoUT is concerned, once the IoUT system becomes operational, it will speed up data centre tasks. Some of these include monitoring, updating, scheduling etc.
The Importance Of Underwater Communication Network
There is an increasing need to improve offshore communications. And IoUT is being seen as the technology of the new age. It owns the capacity to establish a network system with underwater devices.
Both wired and wireless connectivity is support for the provision of real-time information. Especially, in situations at absolute locations that are not easily accessible. One such important element is undersea cables that enhance connectivity capacity. These could help IoUT in different ways.
Lately, Facebook is constructing a massive undersea cable around Africa. It has selected Nokia-owned cable systems provider Alcatel Submarine Networks for the task. Facebook claims the cable will be 37,000 km in length – almost equal to the circumference of the Earth.
With the undersea cable, the tech giant envisions bringing enhanced connectivity to Africa. As the continent is least connected in the world. The cable will interconnect 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The project touted as ‘2Africa’ is using aluminium instead of copper fibres to make the network capacity more efficient.
IoUT And The Futuristic Smart Cities
At present IoUT development could enormously benefit smart cities on land. However, it could also prove to be a boon for the futuristic floating cities. Take for example the floating city of Oceanix. It is designing a sustainable and resilient floating city on the ocean for a community of 10,000 residents on 75 hectares.
Oceanix is paving the way for a new industry with blue technologies. And IoUT could become a key component of connectivity for future floating cities. The technology could play a major role in meeting human needs including energy, water, and food without harming the marine ecosystem.
Even more, it could benefit different parts of the world working on building underwater smart cities. Japanese construction company Shimizu Corp revealed its plans with the concept of ‘Ocean Spiral. Seas and oceans are hugely responsible for regulating global climate.
If IoUT is successful, it could help mankind combat the severe impact of climate change. Perhaps, IoUT could help mankind understand the world within the oceans and reach the unexplored. Currently, possibilities are many.