The National Science Foundation issued a $500,000 grant to researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, toward designing, deploying, and evaluating a first-of-its-kind software-defined testbed for real-time undersea wireless communications and surveillance. The “Cognitive Networking of the Oceans: Localization and Tracking Fundamentals”, the four-year project provides the foundation of a four-tier heterogeneous network architecture that utilizes autonomous undersea vehicles (AUVs), autonomous water-surface vehicles (ASVs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and satellites.

Researchers emphasized how cognitive undersea acoustics is an essential wireless communication technology for a variety of military, commercial, and scientific applications that include tactical surveillance, offshore exploration, monitoring of subsea machinery (oil-rigs, pipelines, disaster prevention), and studying marine life. The grant will help researchers significantly advance state-of-the-art passive undersea acoustic localization (in 3D) by providing novel algorithmic solutions to address the existing challenges in wireless networked communication, navigation, and surveillance.

Current approaches for undersea localization and tracking (despite being considered state-of-the-art) are costly and power-intensive. Having said that, new technology coming out of FAU will advance software-defined undersea acoustic technology for cognitive networking to help address and resolve interoperability issues in heterogeneous network deployments. These include real-time interaction between undersea, water-surface, aerial, and satellite communication nodes, just to mention a few. FAU researchers are designing and developing novel in-house software-defined modules of the undersea network, hoping to maximize flexibility, while minimizing form-factor and cost.

Granted undersea wireless communications and networking have a wide range of applications, it’s still difficult to achieve due to the evident nature of water propagation medium. Lengthy delays in propagation, Doppler effects (due to vehicle and water movement), and highly dynamic multipath nature within underwater environments can cause significant errors and outliers when recording data measurements.

There is a very high need for modular software and hardware architectures that allow rapid deployment and evaluation of new robust protocol designs. Researchers are working towards developing novel optimal algorithms for oceanic-scale 3D acoustic underwater localization, tracking, along with developing hardware and software technology for creating and maintaining programmable software-defined interoperable cross-medium cross-later network testbeds, in which undersea AUVs, aerial UAVs, water-surface ASVs, and satellite nodes will form a single cognitively optimized super network.

FAU researchers will test different aspects of their technique performances, such as range, accuracy, and data throughput in different scenarios. The first tests will occur in a 30-foot deep acoustic test tank at FAU, followed by the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Dania Beach at FAU’s Institute for Ocean Systems Engineering (SeaTech). Localization capabilities will be demonstrated in communication, command, and control application scenarios for remote wireless navigation, and surveillance.

In addition, researchers will (for the first time) explore both theoretical and deployment challenges that occur when autonomous and aerial-assisted mobile undersea communication systems integrate at the oceanic scale. The project will contribute to the emergence of undersea acoustic networking, which has a variety of pertinent uses involving search and rescue, monitoring pollution levels, and oceanographic data collection.