SeaSTAR: Underwater Monitoring Platform

Even though today’s networked embedded systems provide solutions for many challenges, monitoring platforms for underwater applications bring forward yet new unanswered questions and issues. For instance, cooperation between individual entities is a necessity, because isolated entities may not be able to perform their tasks with sufficient quality or efficiency, or are unable to reach the required distributed control objectives. Making efficient use of scarce resources independent of growth and in such a way that the system adapts to a dynamically changing environment is crucial. Unreliability is extreme due to resource constraints and harsh environment in which nodes are deployed and greatly influences the nodes and transmission links. Enabling course-grained monitoring at different water depths requires (too) many nodes to be deployed, which in turn makes centralized control impossible.

The demand for underwater acoustic telemetry has in the past been mostly limited to systems for simple controlling, sensing, and activating functions with very low data rate and relatively shallow waters. Examples are acoustic releases of moorings and systems for remote activation of shut-down valves in underwater production of oil and gas. More recently there has been a significantly increased need for underwater communication systems with higher data rates over considerably longer distances for both military and civilian applications such as fields of offshore oil and gas and monitoring wellbeing of marine life.

Although it may sound like science fiction, today’s technology is in fact very close to opening up new ways in tackling underwater monitoring challenges and in ways we learn and understand the complexity of marine life and can monitor waters and coasts. The key-missing ingredient for turning the vision of continuous course-grained monitoring of shallow/deep water into reality is the availability of an effective and flexible underwater sensing and communications infrastructure, which makes possible for all sensing devices to exchange data and to network together. The objectives of this project address technology components, their integration into systems and platforms as well as the development of innovative applications.

The SeaSTAR project aims at gathering experts from traditionally disjoint communities (sensor technology, IC design, power conversion, computer architecture, wireless sensor network protocols design, underwater telemetry and distributed processing) to investigate, define, and develop core technologies for underwater monitoring platforms and to build the first working demonstrator.


Monitoring the underwater world is a formidable task due to its complexity, size and extreme harshness, and due to the limited technology we can count on today, whose use needs costly installations, sea trips, specialized personnel, and sometimes dangerous operations. Once installed, collecting the data from the sensor systems used is by no means simple. Long cables may be needed to connect underwater sensors to sea-surface equipment from which data can be collected or transmitted. In addition very costly communications systems may be required. The SeaSTAR project aims at solving these problems by combining cutting edge acoustic vector sensor technology and electronics, collaborative wireless networking, as well as distributed processing. The result will be new system architecture and monitoring platform combining pervasively deployed sensor nodes. The ultimate goal is to provide a flexible, reconfigurable, robust platform for the support of underwater monitoring applications, leveraging the potential for exploitation of these systems. Our major objectives are:

  1. To advance wireless sensor network technology driven by the particular needs of underwater monitoring and to carry out case studies that show the effectiveness and usability of our architecture.
  2. To advance the development of low-power acoustic vector sensors for underwater deployment that can be used both for passive monitoring acoustic signals and vibrations; as well as active communication receiver.
  3. To develop power efficient transducer drivers for underwater wireless communication.
  4. To develop and recommend an architecture for a network of sensors, with a focus on collaborative beamforming and hybrid underwater networking protocols, so as to provide a flexible platform to support underwater monitoring applications.

Utilization summary

The research is expected to have utility in an abundance of industrial, environmental monitoring, oil/gas exploitation, and safety and security applications. For example, in the field of offshore oil and gas fields there are new needs and requirements as exploration goes to deeper depths (more than 1000 meters). This requires autonomous or cable-free systems for all types of environmental monitoring, site surveying and inspection, as very long cables are heavy, expensive, and not easy to handle. There is also a tendency towards distributed wells and processing units on the seafloor, which requires local area communication, thus wireless (acoustic) networks covering sizeable areas. Sea installed wind turbines will require underwater acoustic monitoring systems to protect the wellbeing of marine life. Finally, the availability of higher data rates would make it possible to greatly enhance the range of applications that can be supported by this technology, e.g., still images or possibly even slow video. Therefore, results of this project would not just generically improve performance, but would make it possible to deploy solutions that are infeasible with today’s technology.

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