Solar cells economical for fast underwater wireless communication, demonstrate researchers

Industry Insights

While solar cells are typically used to convert light into power, they can also find application for carrying out underwater wireless optical communication with high data rates, say researchers. Using a range of solar cells connected in series as detectors, the new approach could offer a cost-effective method that requires low energy to transmit data underwater.

In fact, world over, for ocean protection initiatives, there is a critical need for efficient underwater communication to serve the increasing demand for underwater data exchange, stated the research team leader behind the initiative. For example, efforts undertaken for coral reef conservation requires data links to transfer data from manned submarines, divers, unmanned autonomous underwater vehicles, and underwater sensors to ships on the surface that support the work.

To demonstrate this, in a laboratory experiment, the team of researchers used a range of commercially available solar cells to devise an optimized system free of lens for high-speed optical detection underwater.  The detection area offered by solar cells is much larger than photodiodes that were traditionally used as detectors for wireless optical communication.

The researchers demonstrated the highest bandwidth attained for a commercial silicon solar panel-based communication system with a large detection area based on the best of their knowledge. The system could even allow exchange of data and power generation with one device.

Technically, underwater wireless communication system that are based on light displays higher speed, lower latency, and require less power compared to sound or radio waves. However, from a practical standpoint, most high-speed optical systems that travel long distance are not possible for underwater implementation. This is because they require critical alignment between the transmitter that emit light and receiver that senses the incoming light signal.

Importantly, solar cells make it easy for the transmitter-receiver alignment due to their characteristic to detect light from a large area and convert into electrical signals.

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