Later this year, Ulaş Güntürkün hopes to have a product on the market that can dramatically improve performance and cut costs of communications between autonomous underwater vehicles and other submarine equipment.

Güntürkün is the Founder and CEO of Halifax-based Marecomms, which has devised a product called the Robust Acoustic Modem, or ROAM. This modem uses sound waves to transmit and receive images, videos, or other data wirelessly under the water at greater distances than can be achieved with current methods.

Working with Marecomms’ corporate partner, Dartmouth-based Geospectrum Technologies, Güntürkün has been testing and improving the product for the past two years and is now ready to build the company’s first fully functional prototype.

“We are now building our first fully functional live prototype and our intention is to have it finished by the end of the summer and have it available for demonstration,” said Güntürkün in an interview this week.  “Our first product, I hope, will be in the market this year.”

Originally from Turkey, Güntürkün is a PhD in electrical engineering who previously worked at Dalhousie University. He is a specialist in underwater communications. A couple of years ago, he began to work on a solution for a common problem in nautical industries: it’s really difficult for submarine equipment to communicate over long distances.

Güntürkün explained that electromagnetic signals are quickly absorbed by water and don’t travel long distances, and there is currently a lack of robust, reliable equipment that can send data through water in all conditions. This is a problem because monitoring “underwater assets” like oil and gas pipelines or aquaculture farms is expensive because humans have to be nearby during the inspections. That means they are carried out sporadically, and problems can occur between inspections.

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Güntürkün’s solution is to use sound to carry signals through the ocean, as soundwaves can travel tens or even hundreds of kilometres in the right conditions.

ROAM first converts electronic message content, such as images or videos, to a sound signal, which is transmitted and received by underwater sensors. (It currently uses Geospectrum sensors.) These sensors are similar to loudspeakers and microphones, except they operate under the water. The received sounds are converted back into electrical signals. Marecomms uses algorithms to correct for distortions and corruptions, and the original message content is reconstructed quickly.

This means, for example, that an underwater robot can stream pictures or videos of an underwater infrastructure (oil&gas pipelines for instance), enabling staff to detect potential failures or leaks instantaneously, saving significant overhead expenses, as well as mitigating environmental risks.

“With our reliable and broadband underwater communication systems, costs per inspection cycle can be reduced from over $300,000 to around $50,000,” said Güntürkün.

Not only has Güntürkün tested the product in the harsh conditions of the North Atlantic to prove it is robust, he has also successfully tested it in shallow water in Halifax Harbour. Shallow waters are more difficult for this sort of sound-based device because the surface can distort sound waves. What’s more, the heavy shipping traffic in Halifax Harbour produces a lot of other noises. Despite all that, ROAM proved effective in the tests.

Marecomms is now a two-person operation and Güntürkün is eyeing growth this year, once he gets the product into the market. He has made connections with potential clients at trade shows and conferences, and Geospectrum is a reseller of the product, so he has a path to market. One question he hopes to answer this year is whether he will raise investment capital or finance the growth in the short term through revenue and grants.