Armenian Engineer Works to Bring Underwater Wi-Fi to Life

Hovannes Kulhandjian in the lab boat of Dr. Tommaso Melodia’s WINES Lab Research on Lake Erie (Photo: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo)


BUFFALO, N.Y.—Hovannes Khatchig Kulhandjian’s story is typically modern Armenian. It is one of constant motion, moving from one place to another, learning to adapt, and, in that uncertainty, learning to strive.

Kulhandjian was born in Gyumri, Armenia. In the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in 1988, his family moved to neighboring Georgia. After a few years there, the Georgian civil war broke out and forced them out once more, this time to his father’s birthplace, Egypt.

Today, Kulhandjian is a Ph.D. candidate at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he is helping push the envelope in communications technology in a project that has garnered worldwide attention.

Hovannes Kulhandjian, several fellow researchers, and research leader and U.B. professor Dr. Tommaso Melodia are working on a project that promises to bring the Internet underwater.

The internet underwater process (Picture: Hovannes Kulhandjian / University at Buffalo)

Near the University at Buffalo, the small research team has run successful tests on Lake Eerie. The team has set up an underwater Wi-Fi network that operates using sensors that Kulhandjian and his team dropped into the lake. The sensors signal buoys on the surface, which in turn communicate with satellites, connecting to the Internet.

The underwater sensors are special, though, in that they use sound waves rather than radio waves, which work poorly underwater.

The truly novel aspect of this research project, however, is that it aims to standardize protocol for underwater Internet. Currently, limited underwater communication exists, but is hindered by differences in networks and infrastructures. The Internet Underwater project aims to enable communication between devices and systems free of such constraints. With this standardization, the team says, it will be possible for someone on a laptop to connect directly, for example, to underwater sensors measuring ocean temperatures.

The implications of this breakthrough are significant. Dr. Melodia imagines a warning system that can send a Tsunami alert from underwater sensors deep in the ocean directly to smartphones on shore, giving people vital time to get to safety.

“Other applications for it are monitoring the ocean to try and understand how the underwater currents in the ocean or in the Great Lakes affect pollution. You could monitor the composition of water in different areas and how those change over time, and how currents contribute to weather and climate change,” Dr. Melodia says.

Kulhandjian studied electrical engineering at the American University in Cairo. After graduating with high honors at the AUC, he was accepted to the State University of New York at Buffalo to pursue his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, specializing in signal processing and wireless networking. Kulhandjian is working on several other projects involving underwater wireless acoustic sensor networks.

Dr. Tommaso Melodia

Kulhandjian’s pursuit of higher education has been a challenging one, lined with obstacles in moving from country to country and striving to master foreign environments and languages. But he is thrilled with the outcome. “I always wanted to fulfill my parents’ dream and continue my education towards a Ph.D. degree,” he says.

“We Armenians around the world value higher education and strive by all means to support those students that cannot afford it. I’d like to mention that I am grateful to a number of Armenian scholarship funds. Without their support I would not have been able to pursue my professional ambitions,” Kulhandjian says.

Kulhandjian wants to pay that help forward when his turn comes. “Upon graduation from University at Buffalo I’d also like to take part in supporting potential students of Armenian descent who are in need of financial assistance,” he says.

Kulhandjian is also grateful of his parents who encouraged him to pursue education and who helped him preserve his Armenian identity.

“Despite living most of my life outside my home country, thanks to my parents, who always used Armenian at home, we have preserved our precious mother tongue and our Armenian culture,” Kulhandjian says, adding, “Being involved in Armenian activities overseas has helped us to preserve our roots and heritage.”

The Internet Underwater Project is moving forward with promise. Melodia and his students will present their research at the annual International Conference on Underwater Networks & Systems in Taiwan, taking place Nov. 11 to 13.


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  1. Garen Yegparian said:

    I hope the frequencies used aren;t ones that damage marine mammals’ auditory systems the way the U.S. Navy’s sonar does.

  2. Pingback: The Internet Underwater Project | Buffalo Rising

  3. Michel Kulhandjian said:

    Garen: Those acoustic modems operate at the central frequency of 11KHz with ~10dB power. The Natural underwater noise in open ocean underwater over en extremely broad frequency band 1Hz – 10 KHz can be increased by more than 20dB. So presumably it is safe.

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  6. Pingback: Armenian engineer works to bring underwater Wi-Fi to Life | Public Radio of Armenia

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