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Project Description

Motivations and brief description of the NAUTILUS project


Ever logosince the beginning of time, ocean life and the underwater world have fascinated humankind's imagination. From Greek mythology to Jules Verne's fantastic journey through the depths of sea, the huge mass of water covering two thirds of our globe has attracted countless people and inspired fantasies and stories.

Today's technology is bringing us ever closer to this world, making it reveal its wonders. Submarine explorations make it possible to discover new forms of life and animal and botanical species as yet unknown. Underwater monitoring helps scientists understand the environment, in order to learn the mechanisms that regulate our planet's life. Understanding the environment allows us to protect it, and consequently to protect ourselves. Ocean monitoring can help us detect tectonic movements, incoming tsunamis, water pollution, global warming, and many other facts that are bound to affect our own lives as well as our children's. Besides science, the ability to effectively monitor water, sea-floors, and coasts on a large scale is useful in a number of possible situations, from surveillance of coastal borders, to fishing, and rescue; from oil and gas exploration to earthquake and seaquake prediction, and many others.

Monitoring the underwater world is a formidable task due to its complexity, size and extreme harshness, and 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 these sensor systems is by no means simple, as accessing these devices is often very difficult, if not impossible. 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 communication systems may be required.

Imagine a world where we could just spread a number of sensor nodes in the water, some on the sea floor, some floating at different depths, and others moving around, and these devices were able to talk to each other, autonomously organize themselves into a network, exchange data, and eventually deliver it to a collection point where it can be easily and cheaply accessed or transmitted. Where if, for any reason, a component failed, the other network components could understand it and just reorganize into a different topology with no critical consequences. Imagine a scenario where autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) can travel through such system and, while gliding by the various sensors, download the data and bring it back ashore for the scientists to examine. Where data is continuously processed and disseminated in real time, thereby providing a live view of what is happening in the environment. Imagine swarms of these AUVs travelling around in a coordinated way to accomplish a common mission while exchanging data and being guided together from a remote location. Even though some of this may sound like science fiction, today's technology is in fact not too far from making all of this possible by opening up new ways in which we learn and understand the complexity of marine life, and we can monitor waters and coasts. The key missing ingredient for turning this vision into reality is the availability of an effective and flexible communications infrastructure, which makes it possible for all these devices to exchange data and network together, which in turn enables them to collaborate and to act in a coordinated fashion. Developing this fundamental knowledge and the related technologies will have a great impact on the research communities in communications and networking, as well as robotics, ocean and environmental science, and several others

The main objective of the NAUTILUS project is to provide a comprehensive study of the technical issues related to the realization of the vision outlined above, on which a system concept can be based. Specifically, the major outcome of the NAUTILUS project will be a complete solution for a communications and networking architecture for an underwater sensing, monitoring and exploration system comprising intelligent robots that need to perform collaborative missions. The final solution will be based on very innovative communications and protocol solutions, as well as on a deep understanding of the application needs and features such as swarm behaviours, collaborative missions, cooperative navigation and so on. The main areas of research addressed will include underwater channel models, efficient acoustic communications, networking protocols (multiple access, routing, transport), and cross-layer protocol design. Analytical, simulation and experimental methodologies will be used.

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