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The (almost) final frontier: Singapore takes the Internet underwater

Subnero Logo 300dpi_smallThe underwater world is probably one of the last few frontiers, but in the near future, you may be able to take a selfie while snorkeling or diving and instantly share the photo on social media, thanks to innovations from Singaporean start-up, Subnero.

To understand this better, we met the team from Subnero, a start-up that incubated at the National University of Singapore. They received the “Most Disruptive Innovation” award for their technology at the recent Singapore International Water Week 2014.

Subnero was also one of the six finalists (and the only one from the Asia Pacific region) at Cisco’s Internet of Things (IoT) Innovation Grand Challenge, a global, open competition aimed at recognizing and promoting the adoption of products and startup businesses that will contribute to the growth and evolution of the Internet of Things.

We caught up with (L-R)  Manu Ignatius, Shanmugam Mpl and Tian Chang Ong to find out more about the company’s aspirations and its technology.

We caught up with (L-R) Manu Ignatius, Shanmugam Mpl and Tian Chang Ong to find out more about the company’s aspirations and its technology.

Networks and nodes (a pre-cursor to Internet) were developed in 1969. It has been 25 years since the launch of the World Wide Web – so it seems like a natural progression to connect the unconnected under water. Why is this only just taking off?

Adopting land-based transmission technologies for underwater communications is not ideal as radio waves do not travel well through water. Sound waves on the other hand do a much better job – as such, Subnero’s acoustics-based technology and its development of the world’s first software-defined modem for underwater communications will unlock a whole slew of commercial and even consumer applications!

So who is Subnero?
Formed in 2012, we are currently the only firm in ASEAN specialising in acoustics-based underwater networking and communication solutions. Our solution is based on a combination of hardware (known as the UNET node or the Subnero Underwater Modem) and software (known as the UnetStack).

Can you explain what underwater communications is and how it works?
Prevailing underwater communication operate in a point-to-point manner – think of a message being transmitted from Point A to Point B. If there is a disruption to the message, it will not be received.

What makes our solution unique is that our nodes can be arranged in a mesh network, somewhat like a fisherman’s net – this means the message can take a variety of routes to the receiver, ensuring that it reaches its destination even if one or more routes are blocked. Think of it as the ability to talk on mobile phones versus on walkie-talkies.

Our solution doesn’t just enable communication underwater but also communication between land and subsea by way of nodes attached to floating buoys on the water surface.

How are you transforming the underwater world?
Our technology allows communication to transmit through noise which is particularly valuable in cacophonous shallow tropical waters like those surrounding Singapore. The main contributors to the underwater chatter are the indigenous snapping shrimps which emit loud popping sounds to stun their prey.

Subnero Network v2 0_smallMoreover, our solution is easily customisable – this means it can be used for a variety of applications ranging from communication between divers and underwater vessels, to underwater geo-location, to detection of faults in pipe and cablelines.

Like how 802.11 is today the industry standard for Wi-Fi communication, we envision our software protocol to be the de facto standard for underwater communication.

At Subnero, we believe that IoT is the next big thing that transforms lives, societies and businesses. With our technology, we can actually turn this into a reality for the underwater world, too. Just imagine the freedom to communicate and share from and within the deep sea.

We were excited to be a part of Cisco’s IoT Grand Innovation Challenge – it generated buzz for our organisation and what we do and has been a great platform for us to reach potential partners and leads.

What does the future look like?  We want to be the Cisco of the underwater networking industry.

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