Ocean divers could soon benefit from the Internet of Underwater Things

The Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT) is a network of smart, interconnected sensors and devices that will make communicating within the sea easier. Somewhat similar to the better known Internet of Things (IoT) which covers interconnected electronic devices communicating allowing people to control devices remotely. The IoUT could make it possible to monitor marine animals in real-time e.g., seals swimming in the sea with electronic tags could send real-time water data to scientists in their labs or for archaeologists near a coast being automatically alerted when a diver trespasses on a precious shipwreck. Such scenarios are becoming possible as a result of these underwater connected technologies, which can help monitor and protect the world’s oceans. Around 70% of the Earth is covered by oceans and more than four-fifths of them have never been mapped, explored or even seen by humans! Advances in these underwater technologies are expected to transform many sectors including marine biology, environmental monitoring, construction and geology.

The EU-funded TEUTA project developed acoustic technology that mimics the way whales and dolphins communicate. Acoustic waves, unlike radio or optical waves, travel long distances underwater regardless of its clarity. Remote sensors, measuring tools, detection systems or cameras set up at an underwater site gather data then sent to a buoy on the surface. The buoy in turn sends the information wirelessly back to base, via the cloud, without the need for communication cables. Researchers would benefit from this e.g., by being able to remotely turn on a water quality measuring device installed on the seabed from their labs. For public agencies or non-governmental organisations that monitor water quality, the technology could in time replace the need for researchers to physically go and collect samples and deliver them to the lab.

In Italy researchers are pursuing a new approach to ocean data collection by using sensors and samplers that could be integrated into existing observatories and platforms. This would enable them to gather vast amounts of information that could useful for the proposed European Digital Twin of the Ocean announced in February 2022. The twin will be a real-time digital replica of the ocean integrating both historical and live data. By developing a new generation of marine technologies, the EU-funded NAUTILOS project will gather previously inaccessible information and improve our understanding of physical, chemical and biological changes in the oceans. Technology from NAUTILOS is already being tested in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, sensors are measuring levels of chlorophyll-A and dissolved oxygen in the water, important water quality indicators and therefore will aid in the protection of fish stocks. The project is keen to demonstrate that these new tools can work with existing and future platforms and easily switch between them.

Research in this article was funded by the EU and via the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA).