During the Cold War, the U.S. Navy laid fixed networks of underwater hydrophones on the ocean floor called the “Sound Surveillance System” (SOSUS) to detect Soviet submarines transiting from their bases to patrol areas in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Listening arrays placed in strategic chokepoints that those submarines would necessarily have to transit, like the waters between Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland — the so-called “GIUK Gap” — notionally let the United States know every time a Soviet submarine entered the North Atlantic, allowing the U.S. Navy to direct its own ships or submarines to track them. China is planning to build a massive underwater observation system across the disputed East and South China seas, that experts say could be used to detect the movement of foreign ships and diminish the stealth capabilities of US submarines.
Now DARPA has launched its Ocean of Things program, which seeks to enable persistent maritime situational awareness over large ocean areas by deploying thousands of small, low-cost floats that could form a distributed sensor network. Each smart float would contain a suite of commercially available sensors to collect environmental data—such as ocean temperature, sea state, and location—as well as activity data about commercial vessels, aircraft, and even maritime mammals moving through the area. The floats would transmit data periodically via satellite to a cloud network for storage and real-time analysis.
The Ocean of Things program will provide persistent, wide-area sensor coverage across the maritime environment through the employment of large numbers of intelligent floats. Existing naval and commercial platforms are constrained to localized situational awareness from their organic sensors, and support by remote sensors is often restricted by the physical environment (e.g., fog, rain, cloud cover). Ocean of Things will address these gaps in ocean understanding to benefit all users of maritime data.
“The goal of the program is to increase maritime awareness in a cost-effective way,” said John Waterston, program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO). “It would be cost-prohibitive to use existing platforms to continuously monitor vast regions of the ocean. By coupling powerful analytical tools with commercial sensor technology, we plan to create floating sensor networks that significantly expand maritime awareness at a fraction of the cost of current approaches.”
The Internet-of-Things is an emerging revolution in the ICT sector under which there is shift from an “Internet used for interconnecting end-user devices” to an “Internet used for interconnecting physical objects that communicate with each other and/or with humans in order to offer a given service”. The increasing miniaturization of electronics has enabled tiny sensors and processors to be integrated into everyday objects, making them ‘‘smart’’ , such as smart watches, fitness monitoring products, food items, home appliances, plant control systems, equipment monitoring and maintenance sensors and industrial robots. By 2025, it is predicted that there can be as many as 100 billion connected IoT devices or network of everyday objects as well as sensors that will be infused with intelligence and computing capability.
Researchers are now developing the Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT), a world-wide network of smart interconnected underwater objects that would transmit data from existing and planned roaming, autonomous vehicles and underwater sensor networks to networks above surface in real time. “We will see acoustic communications transmitting information to AUVs over long distances, while optical modems enable data transfer between sensors and vehicles over shorter distances,” says Sonardyne’s Tena. “The entire network will enable the provision of near-real-time updates to surface-based operators.”
DARPA is planning to develop its own Ocean of Things which shall rely on Floats designed using commercial hardware components as a low-cost design approach will allow for the manufacture of large numbers of floats to cover large operating areas and provide robust data from areas where limited visibility exists today.
The floats will carry sensors that will autonomously generate a large amount of heterogeneous dataset for real-time analysis and generation of high-resolution mission products. The data includes dynamic display of float locations, health, and mission performance; processing of environmental data for oceanographic and meteorological models; algorithms to automatically detect, track, and identify nearby vessels; and identification of new indicators of maritime activity.
The technical challenge for Ocean of Things lies in two key areas: float development and data analytics.
Under float development, proposers must design an intelligent float to house a passive sensor suite that can survive in harsh maritime environments. Each float would report information from its surroundings for at least one year before safely scuttling itself in the deep ocean. The floats will be required to be made of environmentally safe materials, pose no danger to vessels, and comply with all federal laws, regulations, and executive orders related to protection of marine life.
To effectively use constrained floats, each onboard sensing modality will require research into efficient signal processing methods that can maximizing the information content while utilizing limited communications bandwidth available underwater and also energy efficient to minimize the use of stored energy on a float.
DARPA is also planning the availability of cloud computing resources on vessels and on shores connecting these ocean of things through satellite network , to perform data processing and analytics algorithms on large volumes of data produced by these floats. These Ocean Internet-of-Things can benefit from the scalability, and performance of cloud computing infrastructures and could provide them with opportunities for cost-effective on-demand scaling.
Additional research will focus on the implementation of advanced analytic techniques in a cloud-based architecture, on approaches to visualize the dynamic capabilities of the system, and on methods to assist operators interacting with large numbers of floats, says DARPA.
The data analytics portion of the Ocean of Things program will require proposers to develop cloud-based software and analytic techniques to process the floats’ reported data. This effort includes dynamic display of float locations, health, and mission performance; processing of environmental data for oceanographic and meteorological models; developing algorithms to automatically detect, track, and identify nearby vessels; and identification of new indicators of maritime activity.
Ocean of Things will deliver distributed awareness of both the physical and operational ocean environments to provide improved environmental and activity characterization. In addition to the primary sensing mission, a successful Ocean of Things program will be able to support testing of specialized payloads/behaviors to interact with its surroundings and improve system performance.