UW develops first underwater 3D positioning app for smart devices

Aug 18, 2023, 7:42 AM | Updated: 8:03 am

Underwater Smart Device...

UW developers have created the first-ever underwater 3D smart device. (Photo: University of Washington)

(Photo: University of Washington)

A team at the University of Washington has developed the first underwater 3D-positioning app for smart devices.

“Mobile devices today can work nearly anywhere on Earth. You can be in a forest or on a plane and still get internet connectivity,” said lead author Tuochao Chen, a UW doctoral student in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “But the one place where we still hadn’t made mobile devices work was underwater. It’s kind of the final frontier.”

More on UW: Apple Cup, other UW football traditions at stake in conference discussions

Above water, GPS relies on a vast satellite network to locate mobile devices with radio signals. Underwater, these signals quickly fade.

However, when the new devices are used, at least three divers within 100 feet or less of each other can track each other. The existing speakers and microphones on their smart devices are able to contact each other, and the app tracks each user’s location relative to the leader.

Often swimmers have limited visibility. The new app has value for scuba divers and snorkelers because it helps them find each other in an emergency.

Previous underwater positioning systems have relied on strategically placed buoys, but these systems are expensive and cumbersome to deploy. The UW team found that such buoys aren’t necessary.

With the app, if the dive leader has at least one other diver visible, the group’s devices can send acoustic signals to each other through their microphones and speakers and use the timestamps to estimate each diver’s distance. Based on these distances, the app can estimate the group’s formation and each diver’s location. If a device also tracks depth, as sport monitors like the Apple Watch Ultra or the Garmin Descent do, the system can locate divers in 3D.

The app needs at least three devices in its network to function.

The study builds on a previous breakthrough from the lab called AquaApp, which allows divers to send messages to each other underwater.

“This and AquaApp can be used together,” said author Justin Chan, a UW doctoral student in the Allen School. “For example, if the dive leader finds someone going the wrong way, the leader can send an alert: ‘Hey, you’re going out of range. You need to come back.’ Or if a diver is running out of gas, an SOS can let the team find the person quickly even in murky water.”

Local News

In this photo, an unusually large group of killer whales was spotted off the coast of San Francisco...

Steve Coogan

Trawl vessels caught 10 killer whales in ’23 off Alaska, federal agency says

A federal agency says one of its teams is analyzing data on 10 killer whales incidentally caught in Alaska by groundfish trawl fisheries in 2023.

1 hour ago

Image: The Jantzen Beach carousel was installed in June 1928 at the amusement park that once stood ...

Feliks Banel

Beloved, and huge, Jantzen Beach Carousel gets a new home

A beloved Portland area landmark – a vintage carousel from the 1920s – is hitting the trail for points east.

3 hours ago

Image: A view of Amazon Prime Video logo projected on a sail at a reception for Season 2 of "Modern...

the MyNorthwest staff with wire reports

Amazon Prime Video will soon have ads, or a $2.99 monthly charge to dodge them

Amazon Prime Video will include advertising during shows and movies starting early next year, joining other streaming services.

5 hours ago

weather Seattle sunshine flooding...

L.B. Gilbert

As summer ends, Seattle will feel fall fast with ‘first heavy rainfall’

As Friday brings the last official day of summer, it will start to feel like fall incredibly fast with the first heavy rain of the season expected.

10 hours ago

Image: A Bellevue Police Department vehicle...

Briseida Holguin, KIRO 7

Suspect arrested after strangling Bellevue officer, stealing police car

A Bellevue Police officer is at home recovering after being strangled by a burglary suspect early Saturday morning.

10 hours ago

Photo: A photo of Lumen Field during the preseason game against the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seaha...

Julia Dallas, KIRO 7

New study ranks Lumen Field as one of most dangerous stadiums in US

A new study by Sportsbook Review found that the zip code surrounding Lumen Field is the second highest in local crime compared to other stadium zip codes in the US.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

UW develops first underwater 3D positioning app for smart devices