How cave-dwelling fish could help stop an IoT catastrophe

10 May 2018

An Eigenmannia fish. Image: Will Kirk/composed and edited by Eric Fortune and Eatai Roth

A peculiar trait of a cave-dwelling fish has inspired a device that could help us avoid disruption caused by a saturation of IoT signals in one place.

As we plough ahead towards a future where many city spaces are covered in connected devices as part of the internet of things (IoT), there are fears that we could reach the point of a spectral bandwidth crunch.

So, efforts to find ways for devices to avoid being jammed by a neighbouring signal have led researchers to some strange places, the latest of which happens to be home to a species of cave-dwelling fish.

In a paper published to the journal Optics Express, The Optical Society revealed how the species called Eigenmannia live in complete darkness.

In order to survive, they emit an electric field to communicate with other fish and to sense the surrounding environment. When two fish emit this field near each other, it has the potential to interfere with and jam the signal, which would obviously be bad for the fish.

However, thanks to a unique neural algorithm, the fish can adjust their electric communication signals to prevent this interference. For us humans, this same ability can be harnessed to create a light-based jamming avoidance response (JAR) device.

Only needs slight adjustments

Similar to the Eigenmannia, the JAR device detects whether another signal could present a jamming problem and then intelligently shifts its emitting signal higher or lower in frequency. This allows it to moves away from the jamming signal without crossing its frequency, which would amplify the jamming.

Because it is light-based, the device only needs very slight adjustments, with a wide range of frequencies – from the megahertz frequencies used for radio and GPS communication, to the gigahertz signals used by cell phones and radars – making it ideal for IoT.

To actually make the device, the team only had to use an off-the-shelf optical component called a semiconductor optical amplifier to mimic the Eigenmannia’s JAR.

“This could allow a smarter and more dynamic way to use our wireless communication systems without the need for the complicated coordination processes that currently prevent jamming, by reserving whole sections of bandwidth for specific phone carriers or users such as the military,” said research team lead Mable P Fok.

Possible uses

Speaking of the military, the team sees it having uses in a number of areas, among them being to avoid unintentional jamming when radars aboard planes or military vehicles are operating in the same area.

It could also be used in environments such as hospitals where wireless devices can interfere with wireless transmissions coming from medical instruments.

“Eventually, this approach could be used to achieve effective use of the wireless spectrum by allowing wireless devices to automatically move to a frequency that doesn’t interfere with other signals nearby,” said Fok.

“This could bring down the cost of using the wireless spectrum because service providers would not have to pay to reserve large amounts of bandwidth.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic