WiSub takes the pins out of subsea

June 18, 2013

Technology development firm WiSub hopes to make subsea data transfer easier and faster.

WiSub managing director Mark Bokenfohr holds a prototype subsea connector for high-speed, microwave data transfers.A chance meeting at a subsea conference has resulted in the development of a technology aimed at making subsea connections easier, faster, and pinless.

WiSub has designed a subsea connector technology that eliminates pins for the transfer of high-speed data—through use of microwave electronics.

Now, with a grant from the Research Council Norway, they are looking to make their technology better, by increasing data transfer rates from 100MB/second to 1GB/second.

The technology works through the use of already developed through-air microwave communication technologies, such as satellite communications systems and related electronics, applied to subsea use.

The founders of the company, formally established in 2011, have been working on it since they met at a subsea event in Bergen in 2010, using subsea wet-mate connections as their starting point.

Tomasz Ciamulski is a microwave electronics specialist and managing director Mark Bokenfohr is a subsea operations and mechanical design specialist. 

Working in their spare time, they carried out tests, determining that they could get transfer rates of 100MB/ second through a few millimeters of seawater. 

Since then, they have gone full time, working through patenting, design, technical, and business development for their technology, with a full feature working prototype now built. “It is not obvious it should work but it does, through less than 10cm of water. But that is enough to create an opportunity within subsea wet-mate connectors,” said Bokenfohr. “Pins and mechanical assemblies don’t really like water too much. Without pins you do not have to worry about aligning the pins or sealing out seawater. Seawater will be sealed out, but you don’t need moving parts, so you do not need dynamic seals.” 

This could reduce the amount of time offshore vessels are required for making connections, potentially saving tens of thousands of dollars in vessel rates, he says. It could also speed up data transfer to open the way for real time environmental monitoring, Bokenfohr says.

WiSub is looking to prove the technology subsea and has been working on a field-ready prototype it hopes to have installed in a pilot project this summer. This will help demonstrate the technology’s capability to the market, both through NCE Subsea and also through representatives in key regions such as the US Gulf of Mexico and Brazil. 

“We are a bit ahead of ourselves,” said Bokenfohr. “There is no solution right now, so equipment has not been designed for it. There is a method for transferring data using fiber optics through wet-mate subsea technology, but that is very expensive, so people do not do high speed connections underwater unless it is a high value application.” However, he expects there will be a strong market, once new solutions are adopted. 

“Environmental monitoring is a growing area,” he said. “Companies want 24/7 monitoring. If there is a leak they want to see it right now. Pin to pin data transfer can only send a limited amount of data because of the limited speed. If you are able to send more you can have real time monitoring.” The company would prefer to stay independent and is seeking strategic investors. It will also look to companies such as ROV operators and bottom seismic node suppliers, who are less constrained and less risk averse than the larger operators and also, for its first trials.



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