Despite continuous advances in underwater remote control vehicles (ROVs), devices remain tied to the surface using communication cables. However, the new ExRay wireless underwater drone uses light instead of cables for communication.
Because radio waves do not travel well through the water, the ROV communicates with its ground operator using a long cable that sends commands to the vehicle and relays video in real time. In many cases, the cable also powers the ROV, although some models use on-board batteries for this.
To transport the cable, rather large surface vessels are usually required. Moreover, the wire can snag on underwater objects, resulting in loss of the ROV.
Swiss startup Hydromea has tackled the problem and announced the world’s first wireless underwater drone. Hydromea ExRay should be on the market by the end of next year.
The functioning prototype uses the existing Luma submarine communications system. It transmits binary data through water using fast light pulses.
Pulses of 470nm blue LED light are transmitted between two optical modems: one on the submarine itself, the other on the surface. Since data is transferred at a speed of 10 megabits per second, even HD video from the onboard ExRay camera is sent with virtually no delays.
More detailed specifications and pricing will be announced at commercial release late next year.