Underwater data lasers

Communication from the depths of the seas currently requires a cable connection or acoustic transmission. Cables limit mobility and acoustics are risky because losing communication results in the loss of the vehicle. Acoustic technologies furthermore struggle with distortion and cannot transmit large file sizes, such as images, even over small distances.[1] The development of lasers which can package and transmit more data underwater will increase applications.[2,3,4]

The global underwater robotics market size is expected to reach $6.74bn by 2025.[5] Applications are foreseen in oceanographic data collection, pollution monitoring, offshore exploration, disaster prevention, assisted navigation, and tactical surveillance.[6]

Researchers have successfully used narrow-beam optics to help overcome the significant absorption and scattering effects of water.[7] Demonstrations have shown how two underwater vehicles can quickly search for and locate each other.[2] Lasers have little known environmental impact, and perhaps counterintuitively, require less battery power.[8,9] However, lasers still need to be tested in an ocean environment between a surface vessel and an underwater target.[10]

When can we expect that underwater exploration, undertaken by robots relying on lasers to communicate to the surface and each other, will become an accepted practice?

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[1] Reynolds, M.,(2017), Underwater drones use sound to send snaps of the ocean floor
[2] Parde, N., (2018), Advancing undersea optical communications
[3] Schweber, B., (2018), Conquering Underwater-Communication Challenges with Electro-optics, Radar
[4] Bleier, M. & A. Nuchter, (2017), Low-cost Laser Scanning in Air or Water Using Self-calibrating Structured Light
[5] Grand View Research (2018), Underwater Robotics Market Worth $6.74 Billion by 2025 | CAGR 13.5%: Grand View Research, Inc.
[6] Akyildiz, I. F., Pompili, D., Melodia, T. (2005), Underwater acoustic sensor networks: research challenges Ad Hoc Networks
[7] Converge Digest, (2018), MIT: Lincoln Lab looks to narrow-beam lasers for underwater comms
[8] Economist, (2013), Captain Nemo goes online
[9] Greener Ideal, (2018), 5 Reasons Laser Technology is Better for the Environment
[10] Coxworth, B.,(2018), Lasers used to transmit video underwater
More information:
Wallace, J., (2014), Small real-time lidars could allow UAVs to conduct underwater scans
Sonardyne, (2020), Bluecomm Underwater Optical Communication
Errymath, (2017), The blue and green laser for submarine communication
Markets and Markets, (2018), Underwater Acoustic Communication Market worth 2.86 Billion USD by 2023

By Matthew J. Spaniol