Smart Cables for Scientific Data Collection

Smart Cables for Scientific Data Collection
An example of a SMART repeater. (Image credit: Subsea Data Systems)

In December 2021, Subsea Data Systems (SDS), a new partnership between Samara/Data and Ocean Specialists, Inc. (OSI), announced that it had received funding from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to develop SMART (Sensor Monitoring and Reliable Telecommunications) Cable technologies.

SMART is an initiative built on the concept that adding sensor components to commercial submarine fiber optic cables used to carry Internet traffic can simultaneously collect seismic and oceanographic data without interference to the cables’ primary function.

While SMART Cables have been discussed for years, we are proud that NSF’s support has enabled us to move quickly to produce the first SMART repeater sensor system prototype. We anticipate completion of the prototype within the next few months, qualifying us to apply for an SBIR Phase II grant from NSF. The prototype system will be the first step in developing solutions which system suppliers can, in turn, offer to cable system operators.

This effort, along with several parallel developments in 2021, has propelled the SMART concept forward in unprecedented ways. These new advances have catalyzed interactions across a broad range of entities that would benefit from SMART technology. We are watching cable suppliers, developers, and operators move forward with ideas and projects that could make SMART Cables a reality within the next few years.


At SDS, we are currently working on TRLs 3 and 4 in tandem. While a functional benchtop prototype will enable us to achieve TRL4, we also plan to work with system suppliers to define design elements that will allow our sensor package to be incorporated into telecommunications cable systems. We expect this work to propel our development status to at least TRL5 before the end of 2023, at which time we plan to be conducting field trials. Further, more realistic trials, will be needed to achieve TRLs 6 and 7. Trials and demonstrations are essential to build the confidence of not only system suppliers but also potential users and operators of SMART Cables.


We know that the SMART concept will need further Research & Development (R&D) investment at every step along the way. Furthermore, funding for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) will be needed at later stages and through the life of each deployed system. While the tenets of social responsibility may garner some support from telecom cable operators, we expect that much of the funding will need to come from outside sources, including governments, NGOs, and charitable foundations. However, we ultimately hope to see SMART Cables become self-supporting by providing valuable data for disaster mitigation, geologic and oceanographic research, and cable protection.

At SDS, we are encouraged by the increased interest in SMART Cables over the past several months. We believe that the initial funding for the first SMART systems will start a virtuous cycle of funding and new projects, and we look forward to continuing the rapid push to make SMART Cables a reality.

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This story was originally featured in ON&T's March 2022 issue. Click here to read more.


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