Beam me down Scotty

Beam me down Scotty

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

ETRI Researchers Beam Signals Through Rock for Reliable Underground Wireless Communications

Researchers from South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) have developed what they call the world’s first “Subterranean Magnetic Field Communication Core Technology” — demonstrating wireless communication within a mine located deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

“We have conducted successful communication trials between the first and second layers of underground mines using magnetic field communication systems,” In-kui Cho, director of electromagnetic wave basic technology at ETRI, explains of the team’s successful tests. “This greatly reduces the likelihood of communication network disruptions caused by mine collapses.”

Traditional radios don’t work well underground, with the soil, rock, and moisture working to block signals from reaching other layers of a mine or other underground facility. To resolve this, the team developed a wireless communications system which uses a very low-frequency narrowband spectrum, in the 20kHz range, with a one-meter (around 3.3′) transmitting antenna communicating with smaller receiving antennas operating on the principle of magnetic induction.

Transmitting at a 130-foot range through solid limestone, this “MFC” communications technology could make mines safer.

In testing in a real-world mine environment, surrounded by limestone, the team was able to successfully transmit voice and data signals bidirectionally at a rate of around 4kb/s at a range of up to 40m (around 130 feet). This, the team points out, would be invaluable for both general operation and during disaster response when alternative communications methods may be disrupted.

““This technology is anticipated to be a groundbreaking mode of reliable communication in complex and unpredictable environments,” Seung-keun Park, assistant vice-president at ETRI’s radio research division, adds, “like underground construction, tunneling, and ocean excavation.”

The team’s research has been presented as a poster session during the 20th Annual IEEE International Conference on Sensing, Communication, and Networking (SECON 2023), but has not yet been made publicly available.

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