The global underwater drone market is projected to register a CAGR of 11.7%. To enable wireless remote operations of multiple autonomous underwater vehicles a mobile wireless network infrastructure is necessary. For this reason, short-range optical and long-range acoustic communication and positioning systems have reached high technology readiness level. However, a unique solution combining these two complementary systems within underwater drones and/or benthic stations has been developed by very few. Low reliability and high outage probability due to challenging opto-acoustic propagation conditions make the optical or the acoustic communication system alone unsuitable for wireless remote operations of autonomous vehicles.
In the UNDINA project, the consortium, which includes optical and acoustic modems, USBL, and drones’ manufacturers, aims at designing, and demonstrating an opto-acoustic communication system used within an underwater mobile network. Data offloading from an autonomous benthic station towards a linear formation of underwater drones passing above it, is a considered scenario. Another scenario consists of multiple underwater drones simultaneously performing an inspection or a survey. Drones offload their data towards the benthic station that is directly connected to the end user. An additional drone is parked on the benthic station to serve as a relay for the network-aided positioning and communication systems if a link fails.
Deep integration is performed into three commercial underwater drones and in two research benthic stations. Retrofitting subsea instrumentation and the use of communication standards are included by design. A prototype of the opto-acoustic system and the adaptive mobile networking solutions will be presented.