Smart Buoys Could Secure Ports, Provide Wi-Fi

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Ensuring the security of oil rigs, ports and harbors isn't

easy. Boats of all sizes sail in and out, and while radar can see most of them,

it doesn't give details about who or what.

Intellicheck Mobilisa, a wireless technology company, thinks it

has an answer. It's a buoy, outfitted with an array of communications antennas,

a computer and various sensors. "In a way, this makes too much

sense," Steve Williams, CEO, told Discovery

News. "We wondered why nobody had tried this before."

To

keep costs down, the company turned to off-the-shelf systems where possible. For

example, the computer on board is similar to a high-end gaming machine. The

real advances are in the software, which can recognize anomalies, and the way

the buoys use communications frequencies and protocols. One of those is an

algorithm used to pick up wireless signals over water — unlike the ground,

which absorbs many frequencies, water reflects them, sometimes confusing receivers. 

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Power was another problem. A buoy that needs batteries

replaced or refueling isn't as cost effective as one that doesn't, so these devices are

powered by a set of solar panels (the number is adjusted to local presence or

absence of sunlight) and a wind turbine. Getting solar panels to work in a

marine environment, Williams said, isn't always easy — bird guano was a real

problem until they put Bird-B-gone on the top of the buoys.

The buoy can communicate on cellular, satellite, or Wi-Fi

networks, and can be equipped with cameras, infrared imagers and even sensors

for radiation. They idea is to deploy small groups of these buoys in big harbors or near

ports, such as Puget Sound or, as in a recent demonstration project for the

Navy in the Potomac.

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A typical scenario might be the buoys, which are linked to

the shore via radio, would see a small boat approaching. That tells the

computer to turn the camera in that direction, and show someone monitoring the

image in real time. An infrared camera could show that there are several people

on the boat, and the person monitoring would tell the buoy to approach closer,

perhaps to check if there is any strange radiation from it or just to get a

closer look.

That's a pretty straightforward monitoring system, but

Williams said there's more to it. Because the buoys can communicate via

802.11.b — Wi-Fi — they can coordinate with each other and send data. So such

buoys can also re-create a small Internet at sea. The U.S. Navy has been

interested in using it as a communications system between ships, because by

deploying several buoys, with one as a master control, it's possible for the

ships to send data at the same speeds one might expect from a typical W-Fi-

network.

That's a big upgrade from the typical systems, which rely on

satellite links — reliable as they are the amount of data that can be sent is

very limited.

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The buoys might also do environmental monitoring. Williams

said one partner was the University of Washington, which is interested in using

them to monitor the environment in the Sound. Because they can send a lot of

data, the number of sensors can be greater and the information can be retrieved

in real time.

Williams said the first big customers are likely to be oil

companies and the local governments that monitor them. The reason is that oil

rigs need to protect themselves frm intruders and be able to see if wellheads,

for example, are leaking. Governments in places such as Nigeria and Trinidad

want to know that the oil companies are complying with local environmental

regulations.

Credit: Intellicheck Mobilisa