Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC)

Making Innovation Central to Rhode Island's Future Gina M. Raimondo, Governor

Undersea Sensor and Communications Network

Published on April 1, 2008

As one of the few academic-industry partnerships from the 2007 Rhode Island Research Alliance, parts of the undersea sensor and communication network for real-time coastal observation and analysis project were essentially underway before the Rhode Island Science and Technology Council came along. The project needed a boost ?? so the individual project managers decided to collaborate.

"The STAC grant gave the three industries involved with aspects of this project the opportunity to work together," says Principal Investigator Alfred Hanson. "STAC was the perfect vehicle for us to do this."

Hanson, who heads SubChem Systems, coordinated with researchers from WET Labs, Applied Science Associates and the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography to develop and demonstrate a distributed network of multiple types of robotic or autonomous underwater vehicles with multi-sensor payloads and smart sampling systems for real-time coastal observations and analysis.

When fully operational, the network will be useful to just about anyone on the water. Environmentalists can use it to study climate change and oxygen levels in the water. (Currently the group is testing the oxygen level capacity in East Greenwich Cove, where oxygen levels are notoriously low.) The Coast Guard and Department of Environmental Management can utilize it to help them police and defend the bay against terrorist threats. Eventually, recreational boaters may be able to tap into the system to uncover currents, water temperature and depth.

Each company involved ?? including URI ?? has received individual funding for their individual projects. Called ORCAS-NET-COASTMAP, the network has an integrated data management and information system for real-time coastal observation. URI, WET Labs and SubChem Systems contributed the Ocean Response Coastal Analysis System (ORCAS) to the project ?? an array of underwater vehicles and devices that were collaboratively developed to monitor undersea conditions and collect data.

ORCAS is now connected to COASTMAP, an interactive program made by Applied Sciences Associates, by a wireless communications network developed by SubChem Systems and WET Labs. The STAC grant enabled the groups to integrate the different systems and develop them into a single, multi-functional wireless underwater sensor network.

Currently, the group is demonstrating the network's capabilities through an investigation of low oxygen levels in Narragansett Bay. The scientific focus is an investigation of eutrophication and recurrent oxygen-depletion events in the bay that have caused fish and shellfish deaths during the summer months. The network will monitor the changes in oxygen levels by the time of day, month, weather and various other factors.

Once the data and research are completed the companies hope to market the program to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard, Navy, and other colleges and universities interested in oceanographic research.

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