ENBLE app empowers smartwatches underwater

ENBLE app empowers smartwatches underwater

Unlocking Underwater Superpowers for Smartwatches: A Revolutionary GPS-like App

Underwater Positioning Data An app showing underwater positioning data University of Washington

The Global Positioning System, commonly known as GPS, has become an integral part of our lives, relied upon by smartphones, smartwatches, and other devices for accurate positioning and time estimation. However, when it comes to underwater activities like scuba diving or deep-sea snorkeling, the limitations of GPS become apparent. GPS waves struggle to penetrate water, rendering them ineffective in providing location data in underwater scenarios. But fear not, a novel solution developed by the experts at the University of Washington can bestow GPS-like superpowers upon virtually any smartwatch out there.

A Lifesaving Innovation for Underwater Enthusiasts

Smartwatch App A person wearing a smartwatch that triangulates underwater position University of Washington

The University of Washington team has developed an app that allows underwater divers to communicate and locate each other via their smartphones, effectively creating a GPS-like three-dimensional location triangulation net. This innovation holds particular significance for team leaders overseeing a group of divers. With the app, they can effortlessly keep an eye on the whereabouts of their fellow divers, ensuring they don’t stray away from the group. This could potentially save lives, especially in low visibility conditions, as the app assists in rapidly locating divers in emergencies.

The smartwatch app works by treating each diver’s smartwatch as a node and creating a 3D location map based on the relative distance to the team leader’s smartwatch, which sends audio pings. As more divers join the group, the app’s location estimation expands within a 30-meter range. For a network involving four or five smartwatches, the median error in estimating the underwater location ranges from 0.5-0.9 meters and 0.9-1.6 meters. However, it’s important to note that for accurate location estimation above the surface, the leader’s smartwatch must be wirelessly linked to an anchor device positioned on a buoy or boat.

No Specialized Gear Required: An Acoustic Breakthrough

Apple Watch Ultra Smartwatches like the Apple Watch Ultra are well-equipped for underwater sports. Newsroom / Apple

The most significant triumph of this app is its independence from specialized hardware. To utilize this breakthrough technology, all you need is an Apple Watch or a Wear OS smartwatch with sufficient waterproofing capabilities. The app leverages sound waves rather than relying on external gear. By instructing the smartwatches to emit sounds through their onboard speaker array and using microphones to capture the signals underwater, the app achieves its goal. The audio ping takes approximately 1.5 seconds to return to the team leader’s smartwatch.

This innovation marks the advent of the first underwater acoustic 3D positioning system for smartwatches. Interestingly, the system can also function effectively on smartphones since they possess the necessary speaker and microphone arrays for 3D location estimation. However, the researchers prioritize smartwatches due to their convenience and better water resistance compared to smartphones.

Evaluating the Limitations and Future Prospects

Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch Ultra, Apple Watch SE 2 (Left to right) Apple Watch SE 2, Apple Watch Series 8, and Apple Watch Ultra Andy Boxall / ENBLE

Despite its groundbreaking features, the app has a few limitations. It requires a minimum of three smartwatches to communicate via sound waves for the system to function effectively. When only two smartwatches are involved, the app can only provide ranging information. Additionally, the app’s location tracking is not continuous but instead relies on voluntary localization. The team leader must press a button on their smartwatch to emit an audio signal, which is then picked up by other smartwatches nearby.

One major drawback is that the app is currently unavailable for download from official app stores. Instead, the University of Washington team has uploaded the entire code to GitHub, hoping that the developer community will create an app for release on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. While the code is freely available, running the app off GitHub code requires technical expertise. The team acknowledges the challenges involved in developing an Apple Watch app due to strict quality and user experience regulations on the App Store.

Although the team tested the app using an Apple Watch Ultra, it is compatible with Android devices as well. This means that developers can use the code to create an app compatible with Wear OS smartwatches. However, for generic smartwatches running custom skins based on the RTOS foundation, such as those from OnePlus, Honor, or Xiaomi, the app may not be feasible.

In conclusion, the underwater GPS app developed by the University of Washington represents a significant leap forward for smartwatches. The app eliminates the need for specialized gear, making it accessible to the average user. While there are limitations, the potential impact on the safety and navigation of underwater enthusiasts is immense. With some luck and patience, it’s only a matter of time before the app becomes available in its completed form on application stores.

Interestingly, this pioneering institution has previously developed an underwater messaging app using a similar acoustic approach. Moreover, they have also created an app that allows smartphones to measure body temperature without requiring additional sensors or add-on kits. The University of Washington continues to push the boundaries of technological innovation, benefiting a wide range of users.