Capstone Spotlight: ECE 412

A dissolving transmission system for submarine communications

Capstone Highlight ECE 412




Ciarra Cartwright Elliott
James Forsberg
Erwin Karincic
Jonathan Lundquist

Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical Engineering

VCU College of Engineering

Project Title: Delivery System for Disposable, Low Environmental Impact, High Data Transfer Rate, One Way, Underwater Communications System

What it is, in a nutshell:
A dissolving transmission system for submarine communications

What it is, in a slightly bigger shell:
Underwater communications are difficult because the electromagnetic waves normally used to transfer data don’t travel well in water. Alternative communication methods exist, but they have limited effectiveness and/or strategic disadvantages.

This project aims to solve this problem by creating a dissolving delivery vessel for a high-speed communications system. 

The system’s dissoluble portion, called the transmission sphere, floats to the water’s surface, transmits data and dissolves. To fabricate it, the team created a proprietary dissolving material for which they have filed a patent application. Because the sphere is not tethered to the vessel — and dissolves after doing its job — there is less risk of a submarine’s location being identified by adversaries. This advantage will strategically enhance U.S. and NATO allies’ defensive capabilities, increasing the security of the United States.

What they’re working on right now:
Mechanical electrical integration and testing. 

The biggest challenge so far:
“Carbon steel is much harder to work with than we expected at first.”

Their goal by the end of the year:
The entire communication system — and video of it in action. 

A tip for others who want to work on something similar:
“This is definitely a gargantuan undertaking. If you are planning to do something this intense, be ready to give 20+ hours a week per team member to get it accomplished.”