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MIT’s battery-free underwater navigation system

MIT’s battery-free underwater navigation system. | Picture by special arrangement.  

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Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a battery-free submersible navigation system, called Underwater Backscatter Localization (UBL), that operates on soundwaves.

The system uses sensors that generate own electric charge as a result of mechanical stress caused by vibrating soundwaves. It uses this charge to selectively reflect some soundwaves back into their environment, a MIT release noted.

A receiver translates that sequence of reflections, called backscatter, into a binary pattern: 1s for soundwaves reflected; 0s for soundwaves not reflected. The resulting code can carry information about ocean temperature or salinity, and in principle, the same technology could provide location information, it further explained.

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To communicate underwater, acoustic signals are frequently used instead of GPS as the radio waves are not effective in water. Also, sound travels faster and farther in water, compared to in air.

According to the researchers, batteries of the tracking devices that produce acoustic signals can drain very quickly, as sound is power-hungry. That makes it hard to precisely track objects or animals for a long time-span.

“Why can’t we send out unmanned underwater vehicles on a mission to explore the ocean? The answer is: We will lose them,” Reza Ghaffarivardavagh, research scientist at MIT, said in a release.

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The tests conducted by the team provided proof-of-concept as UBL estimated the distance between a transmitter and backscatter node at various distances up to nearly half a meter, in shallow-water environment.

“The technology could also help subsea robots work more precisely, and provide information about climate change impacts in the ocean,” the release noted.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 2:25:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/mits-battery-free-underwater-navigation-system/article33046153.ece

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