AI is bringing the internet to submerged Roman ruins
Over 2,000 years ago, Baiae was the most magnificent resort town on the Italian peninsula. Cicero, Mark Antony, and Caesar were wealthy statesmen who built luxurious villas with heated pools and mosaic-tiled thermal waters. Over the centuries, volcanic activity submerged the Roman nobility’s playground, leaving half of it below the Mediterranean.
Today, Baiae is one of the world’s few underwater archaeological parks, and its 435 acres are open to visitors wanting to explore the remains of the ancient Roman city. The site is a protected marine area and must be monitored for environmental factors and divers. Barbara Davidde, Italy’s national superintendent for underwater cultural patrimony, says that communication underwater is difficult .”
Cabled networks are the most reliable but are more difficult to maintain and have a limited area of operation. Wireless internet is not compatible with water due to the way that water interacts electromagnetic waves. Scientists have tried optic waves and acoustic wave, but light and sound aren’t efficient forms for wireless underwater communication. Water temperature, salinity and waves, as well as noise, can alter signals as they travel from one device to another.
So Davidde joined forces with Chiara Petrioli (a Sapienza University professor and director of Sapienza’s spinoff WSense), an engineer who specializes in underwater monitoring and communication. Petrioli’s team developed an underwater wireless sensor network that can collect environmental data and transmit it to the land in real-time. Davidde says, “We can now monitor this site remotely and at all times.”
Their system relies on AI algorithms for constant network protocol changes. The algorithms adjust the information path between nodes to allow the signal to travel two kilometers. Petrioli explains that the system can transmit data at a kilobit per sec between transmitters located one kilometer apart and reach tens of gigabits per second over shorter distances. This bandwidth can transmit environmental data from sensors anchored to seafloor. It includes images, temperature, pressure, metal, chemical, biological elements, noise, currents and waves as well as information on water quality, pressure and temperature.
At Baiae, underwater Internet allows remote monitoring of environmental conditions like pH and carbon dioxide levels. This can affect the growth of microorganisms which could cause disfigurement of artifacts. It also allows divers to communicate with each other and with colleagues above the surface. They can also use the technology for pinpointing them with high accuracy.
Davidde anticipates that the network will be available to tourists visiting the archaeological site in the coming months. Visitors will be able to use waterproof smart tablets to communicate and view 3D reconstructions of ruins as they swim over them.
“Underwater Internet has made it easier and more efficient to monitor the archaeological site,” says Davidde. “We can also offer the public an interactive way to explore Baiae
This underwater wireless communication technology is extremely helpful, especially for dynamic systems such as divers moving during site exploration.
Systems like these are used at many archaeological sites in Italy. They also have many other uses, such as studying the effects climate change has on marine environments and monitoring underwater volcanic activity. WSense networks are used by Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy, and Sustainable Economic Development to study how corals, invertebrate animals, and algae adapt to climate change in Santa Teresa bay. WSense systems are also used in other countries, such as Norway, to monitor water quality and fish health at salmon farms.
“It’s nothing like what a cabled system can do,” Petrioli says, “but the flexibility of a cable-free network is extremely valuable.”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.