March 26, 2007 9:56 AM PDT

Wireless tech goes deep-sea diving

A $2.2 million, two-year research project aims to develop technologies to allow divers and machines to communicate wirelessly underwater.

The Department of Trade and Industry has partially funded a Scottish consortium to the tune of $1.1 million to develop equipment that can transmit data wirelessly underwater and enable divers to talk to each other without having to resort to hand signals.

According to the DTI, the technology resulting from the research project should be invaluable to oceanographic and environmental monitoring and increase safety for professional divers working in the oil and gas industries.

The "underwater radio" works like a wireless modem and can be used to transmit data to and from unmanned machinery in deep sea.

In a statement, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alistair Darling said the project offers an opportunity to help establish British industry at the forefront of the field.

The emerging technology could prove useful for divers in certain situations, backers said.

"The signal won't go for miles, but it will actually work. Commercial divers work in noisy environments. They are making bubbles and often working beside machinery," said Ron Marquis, business development manager at Wireless Fibre Systems, which is leading the consortium.

"Hand signals work well when you are in the clear waters of the Caribbean, but most divers are working with considerably less visibility. Radio communications isn't affected by noise and it's not dependent on clear visibility," Marquis said.

But a spokesman from the Association of Professional Divers wasn't convinced.

"It's not something that commercial divers will be interested in," the spokesman said. "It's obligatory to have communications already. The divers have their air pumped through a pipe to them from the surface and a communications cable goes up with that."

Julian Goldsmith of Silicon.com reported from London.

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