BlueComm promises subsea data transfer at broadband speeds

Deep-sea optical communications system launches

A subsea communication system that uses light instead of sound to transfer data at broadband speeds is to be made available.

A British firm, Sonardyne International, and the US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have set up a joint venture company called Lumasys to bring the BlueComm technology to market.

Optical communications can be used to provide ultra-high data rates in typical deep-water environments where there is little or no ambient light and turbidity is minimal.

It is most useful where significant user bandwidth is required or high levels of ambient noise preclude the use of standard acoustic technologies.

BlueComm uses high power light emitting diodes for the transmitter with a receiver based on photomultiplier technology that is so sensitive it can detect light energy at the level of a few photons.

It operates over short ranges of a few tens or even hundreds of metres and can achieve data transfer rates of up to 10-20Mbit/s.

WHOI has used it to send real-time video from untethered remotely-operated underwater vehicles to surface vessels.

Lumasys Inc. will be based in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and will combine first-stage funding and engineering support from Sonardyne with the transfer of IP and technical expertise from WHOI.

Simon Partridge, engineering director of Sonardyne, said BlueComm will complement the company’s established long range but lower data rate acoustic communications technologies for use in challenging environments.

“Adding optical communications to our capabilities will provide users with the best of both worlds: a high data rate uplink coupled with low data rate, robust command and control,” he commented.

“This advance will allow for the extraction of large amounts of data from subsea sensors in a fast and energy efficient manner, or the transmission of camera imagery and real time video.”

WHOI senior engineer Norman Farr, who led the BlueComm research team, added: “Partnering with Sonardyne gives us access to a highly successful and well established worldwide marketing and manufacturing infrastructure as well as a very experienced commercial approach which will allow us to collectively bring this revolutionary technology to market as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

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