Developing the next evolution in underwater communication

July 23, 2014 by Ryan Mcnutt, Dalhousie University
Dal researcher Christian Schlegel. Credit: Nick Pearce photo

Think about how far telecommunications have come in the past century, from the telegraph, to the wireless telephone, to being able to access the Internet from nearly anywhere on the planet. Along that path are a series of small evolutions that, when viewed from a distance, are revolutionary.

Christian Schlegel is trying to spark the next communications evolution — but not through air, as with most telecommunications, but underwater.

Dr. Schlegel, the NSERC/Ultra Electronics Maritime Systems Industrial Research Chair in Wireless Information Transmission and Networking at Dalhousie, is the lead researcher on one of four Nova Scotia projects to receive funding earlier this month through the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency's (ACOA) Atlantic Innovation Fund.

Dr. Schlegel's research into new algorithms to support high-speed underwater communications networks received more than $2.3 million in funding.

"Part of the opportunity with this particular grant is to move towards prototyping, making this research more ready for industry to pick up and integrate into their products and development," explains Dr. Schlegel, part of Dal's Department of Electrical and Chemical Engineering and head of the Ultra Maritime Digital Communications Centre (

Halifax is, of course, a hotbed for work and research in the oceans, and when it comes to communicating underwater, the primary method of high-speed communications uses acoustics—the propagation of pressure waves.

"That presents its own challenges, including that the subsea channel is a very noisy channel; you're not the only one making noise down there" says Dr. Schlegel. "We're looking at bringing in a new generation of computational algorithms, modifying and adapting them to this particular problem. And if we can bring them to a prototype level—show their superiority over traditional methods, prove they can carry more data — then we'll have accomplished what we set out to do."

The research could have applications in everything from , to basic science, to military and commercial uses — really, anyone who has an interest in knowing what's going on under the ocean's surface. Dr. Schlegel adds that students will be a key part of the five-year research project.

"We have students do a lot of research, understanding the problem in analytical mathematical approaches. Then we model things in the computer, studying certain ways of signaling, see how they work, what issues crop up. And when we have an algorithm that seems to be a good candidate, and we have our bases covered, we move into what this grant is really for: the transition of the algorithm onto a hardware platform using programmable integrated circuits."

Dr. Schlegel sees this as a great research and development opportunity, given the amount of oceans-related work happening on Canada's East Coast, but is conscious that it's going to take a lot of hard work and partnerships to bring technology like this to market.

"It's a great opportunity, but a fragile one," he says. "We have to make sure people pull in the same direction and make the best use of the resources we've been given."

Explore further: White matter, old dogs, and new tricks

Related Stories

White matter, old dogs, and new tricks

September 24, 2012

Most people equate "gray matter" with the brain and its higher functions, such as sensation and perception, but this is only one part of the anatomical puzzle inside our heads. Another cerebral component is the white matter, ...

Beneath the Arctic polar cap

June 12, 2014

( —The Arctic polar cap has been melting at an astonishing rate over the past 20 or so years. In addition to causing higher sea levels and other environmental impacts, the decreasing surface is opening up new resources ...

Making wireless 10 times faster

May 6, 2014

It is rush hour and every motorist on the highway is driving in the right lane. The center and left lanes are empty.

Recommended for you

Technology near for real-time TV political fact checks

January 18, 2019

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

Privacy becomes a selling point at tech show

January 7, 2019

Apple is not among the exhibitors at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, but that didn't prevent the iPhone maker from sending a message to attendees on a large billboard.

China's Huawei unveils chip for global big data market

January 7, 2019

Huawei Technologies Ltd. showed off a new processor chip for data centers and cloud computing Monday, expanding into new and growing markets despite Western warnings the company might be a security risk.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.