Researchers have built a prototype for an underwater wireless system which could connect underwater environments to the global internet. This new technology could enable divers to talk without hand signals and send live data to the surface.

The prototype of the system called Aqua-Fi sends data from a small computer held by the diver to a detector on a boat using green LEDs or a 520-nanometer laser.   The small computer codes images into a series of 1s and 0s that is translated into light beams very quickly turning on and off. When signals reach the detector they are converted back to the original image.

In the real world, Aqua-Fi would use radio waves to send data from a diver’s smartphone to a “gateway” device attached to their gear. This gateway would act much like a Wi-Fi booster in your house but, instead of extending the Wi-Fi range in your house, would send data to the computer on the surface via a light beam. This computer is connected to the internet via satellite.

Basem Shihada, from the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, who was part of the team creating the prototype, said: “This is the first time anyone has used the internet underwater completely wirelessly.”

“We hope that one day, Aqua-Fi will be as widely used underwater as Wi-Fi is above water.”

With two computers sat a few meters apart researchers tested uploading and downloading media. Testing the system in static water, researchers found that the maximum data transfer speed is 2.11 megabytes per second and the average delay for a round trip is 1 millisecond.

However, the team will need to overcome some obstacles before the system is ready to be used more widely.

“We hope to improve the link quality and the transmission range with faster electronic components,” explains Shihada.

In moving water, one problem is keeping the light beam perfectly aligned with the receiver. The team is looking at using a spherical receiver to help solve this. 

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