Satellites and mobile phones, built on international standards, help the world get
connected. But the communications technology we use on land does not work well underwater. As water covers over 70 per cent of the earth's surface, NATO has sponsored research into establishing the first ever digital underwater communications standard.
CMRE is working to support effective underwater communication networks to allow undersea robots to work together and report back home (see the infographic on Digital Underwater Networked Communications).
"Robots can behave intelligently and act as a team," says João Alves, Principal Scientist and Project Leader at CMRE. “For example, one of the robots could find some interesting feature and call the rest of the team.”
With effective undersea communication, this can all happen in an autonomous way, without requiring direct human intervention. If needed, the operation can be managed by land-based engineers who monitor all the communications from a command and control room ashore. The connection to land is made through gateway buoys on the surface of the water equipped with radio links to local support platforms or satellites.
“This is particularly important for search-and-rescue operations,” says John Potter, a scientist at the CMRE Strategic Development Office. “Autonomous vehicles are relatively inexpensive and of course unmanned, so they can be sent to do dirty, dangerous jobs.”
To be able to communicate with each other, underwater assets need common standards. “In the air we can simply connect our gadgets to any WiFi hotspot without having to worry about the compatibility,” says João Alves. “Until now, there wasn’t anything even remotely similar for the underwater domain.”
As with the industry standard for WiFi communication, an undersea communication standard has to be defined in order to guarantee the interoperability between equipment from different manufacturers.
For the past ten years, CMRE has been working on the development of the first international digital underwater communication protocol, known as JANUS, which is now an approved NATO standard.
“JANUS was a Roman god of openings and gateways,” says John Potter. “That’s why it is called JANUS, because this language opens the portal between two domains, two different operating paradigms, through which they can talk.”
“It is a digital underwater signalling system that can be used to contact underwater devices using a common format; announce the presence of a device to reduce conflicts; and enable a group of underwater devices (that can be underwater robots, submarines, divers or any other equipment operating under the surface) to organise themselves into a network,” adds John Potter.
Adopted globally, JANUS can make military and civilian, NATO and non-NATO devices interoperable, providing them all with a common language with which to communicate and arrange to cooperate.
JANUS has been extensively tested at sea in exercises involving a number of partners (universities, industries and research institutions) covering a range of application scenarios. Close collaboration with NATO Allies has been particularly fruitful in developing JANUS for use in cases that may improve the safety of maritime operations.
Thursday, June 01, 2017
NATO announces "A new era of digital underwater communications"