Pointers at Glance
- Researchers show how to achieve underwater messaging on smartphones and smartwatches.
- The team developed AquaApp for acoustic-based communication and networking underwater.
Hand signals are the only option for communicating safety and directional information underwater for people participating in activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving every year. Two-way text messaging is a potential alternative but requires expensive custom hardware that is not widely available.
University of Washington‘s researchers show how to achieve underwater messaging on existing smartphones and smartwatches using the software. The team built AquaApp, the first mobile app for acoustic-based communication and underwater messaging that can be used with existing devices like smartphones and smartwatches.
The interface of AquaApp enables users to select from a list of 240 pre-set messages that correspond to hand signals employed by professional divers, with the 20 most common signals prominently displayed for easy access. Users can filter messages into eight categories: directional indicators, environmental factors, and equipment status.
In building the app, the team overcame various technical challenges they hadn’t previously encountered on dry land.
Justin Chan, co-lead author and a doctoral student at the Allen School, said the underwater scenario surfaces new problems compared to applications over the air. For instance, fluctuations in signal strength are aggravated due to reflections from the surface and coastline.
The motion caused by nearby humans, objects, and waves can interfere with data transmission. Further, Microphones and speakers have various characteristics across smartphone models. To ensure AquaApp would work under real-world conditions, they had to adapt in real time to all factors.
Other challenges were addressing the tendency for devices to shift position and proximity in the current rapidly and the various noise profiles the app might encounter due to the presence of animals, vessels, and even low-flying aircraft.