Underwater lasers wirelessly beam video from deep in the ocean

Underwater lasers wirelessly beam video from deep in the ocean
Sending video from deep in the ocean generally requires a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to be tethered to a ship on the surface. That causes a range of problems and limitations, but researchers from Kaust: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology hope to tackle that with the help of laser beams. The proposed system simultaneously transmits ultra HD live video and receives feedback signals.

The bi-directional underwater wireless optical communication (UWOC) system essentially uses a downlink channel to transmit ultra HD live video, integrated with an uplink channel that provides feedback on the conditions of the communication channel and that can also send control commands to manoeuvre the vehicle.

It is the brainchild of Ph.D student Abdullah Al-Halafi and his supervisor Basem Shihada and one of the big ideas behind improving operators’ links with ROVs is to learn more about largely unexplored deep oceans that could provide new resources to support a growing population. Another benefit is that untethered ROVs are less likely to damage coral reefs and pipelines.

In a story released by Kaust, Al-Halafi said: “The challenge is to design fully autonomous vehicles that are equipped with wireless technologies able to transmit high-quality live video, combined with sensing capabilities and robotic intelligence capable of mimicking human intuition and mobility”.

By providing updates on the conditions of communication channels, the transmitter is able to adapt the power and modulation of the video signal to the conditions of the underwater environment. For instance, if the visibility is good, more video packets can be transmitted at faster rates: but if the water clarity deteriorates, the video transmission is slowed down, maintaining video quality. 

“The end user will not experience any difference in video quality as the system delivers video packets with the same definition, but at optimised power and transmission rates,” said Al-Halafi.

At this stage it’s not the only system on the market, but developers are claiming the highest video resolution and transfer rates so far demonstrated for an UWOC system as well as noting that it is cost effective and energy efficient. 

Shihada said: “Our technology paves the way for transmission of real-time video with very high quality in underwater environments, and is expected to attract considerable interest in both academia and industry.”

Take a look at the paper published in the IEEE Photonics Journal if you want to know all the technical details. 

[Paper: UHD Video Transmission Over Bidirectional Underwater Wireless Optical Communication]