João Alves (UComms 2012 General Chair, OES AdCom member)
The sixth edition of the renowned Underwater Communications and Networking (UComms) conference was held from August 30th to September 1st in the coastal town of Lerici, in the Italian Riviera.
UComms is a biennial, international event organised by the NATO STO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) with the support of the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society.
This conference series aims at gathering leading contributors in the field of underwater communications to discuss the latest developments, review the state-of-the-art and collectively find new ways ahead in the challenging world of underwater communications.
This edition marked 10 years since the first UComms was held in Sestri Levanti. Despite the climate of uncertainty, this commemorative edition of UComms was announced as an in-presence event. Following the cancellation of UComms’20 and on-line edition in 2021, this was a much-needed opportunity to re-connect with the community and spend time together for the first time in four years.
Just like in 2018 (the previous in-person edition), this 10-year anniversary took place at the charming Villa Marigola congress centre, a traditional venue for CMRE conferences and a place that continues to please the attendees with its spectacular views and elegant environment.
Topics covered and conference format
With the increased interest in better understanding the Oceans, as well as explore and protect the resources they host, we have seen a similar increase in the demand for technological tools to help with the job.
This has driven the interest in underwater communications as a fundamental enabler to many of the technological solutions on offer. Autonomous vehicles, moored sensors or seabed installations, employed in coastal or deep waters, benefit from underwater communications as an enabler for collaborative autonomy, real-time monitoring, and data fusion.
The physics limitations presented by the underwater domain (which severely impair the usage of optical and electromagnetic radio frequencies) have naturally driven the work on acoustics for applications requiring communication ranges of more than a few tens of meters.
Working with underwater acoustics to establish communications, networks and communication-related services presents fundamental challenges imposed by the physics limitations of pressure waves travelling through water. From high latency to reduced available bandwidth and dependencies on parameters like water temperature and salinity, direct translations from the terrestrial domain are simply not an option.
For these reasons, several sub-domains of interest within the field of underwater communications have naturally established themselves and cover topics such as channel characterization, waveform design, transceiver topologies, networking strategies and security approaches, to name a few.
The UComms conference series aims at discussing all these topics and adopted a format where a series of structured sessions are coordinated by established researchers in the field. Session coordination involves overview of the submission process from invitation of contributions to acceptance decision with the aim of gathering top quality contributions that can lead to a vibrant exchange of knowledge and increased common understanding of the state-of-the-art.
During the conference, the multiple sessions are handled in a single track, giving the opportunity to all participants to follow all the talks and take part in all discussions.
The UComms’22 call for papers was answered by 41 submissions and after a very strict review process (where each final paper was independently and blindly reviewed by at least three reviewers), 32 were invited for presentation, of which 31 were eventually presented.
The technical program of UComms’22 was presented around the following sessions:
- “Physical layer: Propagation, Modulation and Signal Processing” (Hosted by François Socheleau & Konstantinos Pelekanakis), which tackled all aspects of the acoustic communications physical layer, from acoustic propagation to channel equalisation and signal modulation.
- “New Applications Enabled by Next-Generation Underwater Communications” (Hosted by Georgios Sklivanitis and Roberto Petroccia) that looked at interesting new use cases for underwater communications exposing a wide range of communication requirements from an end-user point of view.
- “Underwater Communications Security” (Hosted by Paolo Casari and Roald Otnes) addressed the issues related with data protection and confidentiality of communications in the underwater domain.
- “Optical and Quantum Communications” (Hosted by Norm Farr and Pietro Paglierani) explored the topic of classical optical and Quantum-enabled communications techniques.
- “Adaptive Modem Architectures and Smart Networking Strategies” (Hosted by Henry Dol and Koen Blom) gathered contributions on the development of adaptive communications and machine-learning techniques to improve performance of underwater communications.
In addition to the regular technical contributions, we had the privilege to host three distinguished keynote speakers who delivered fantastic talks on their specific fields of expertise.
Prof. Andrew Singer (Uni. Of Illinois) kicked off the technical program of UComms with his keynote address titled “Underwater Communications Over Many Media and Scales (UCOMMS)” where he presented innovative and unique usages for underwater communications including inside the human body.
On the second day of conference, Prof. Davide Bacco (Uni. Of Florence) addressed the audience on “How Can Quantum Technologies Change Our Business In Underwater Comms?”, providing his expert view on this emerging topic.
For the closure day, the keynote talk was delivered by Prof. Mandar Chitre (NUS Singapore, OES JOE EiC). The title was “Can Machines Learn to Communicate Underwater?” and offered fascinating and very concrete approaches on the usage of machine learning to improve underwater communications,
Eighty-five delegates registered and attended UComms 2022, representing institutions from 16 different countries. As in previous years, generous breaks between sessions provided enhanced networking opportunities.
All papers presented at UComms’22 can already be found in IEEE Xplore. We invite everyone to browse through them, get updated on the latest of underwater communications and find a (little) bit of what UComms is about.
A Special Issue of the IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, with expanded versions of selected papers presented during UComms will be prepared as for previous editions
During the social dinner held at the closure of the conference, the Local Organising Committee was presented with a commemorative plaque from the OES in appreciation for 10 years of outstanding conferences and JOE special issues.” This was a particularly proud moment for those that have been involved in the organisation of the conference series since 2012.
Besides the IEEE OES sponsorship, the 2022 edition of UComms had patron support by the following commercial and non-commercial institutions: NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT), ONR/ONR-Global, ATLAS Elektronik, Popoto Modem, and Thales UK.
Over the years some important lessons have been identified and learnt in the process of setting up such type of conference. We believe some of those lessons could be of use for other similar events, namely:
- UComms contributions follow a strict 4-page format (plus references). In our experience this contributes to a more concise manuscript and helps the reviewing process. The “short paper” format also plays to the authors advantage when considering an extension into full article for JOE submission.
- All pre-print versions of the manuscripts are shared with registered delegates (secure link, password protected and available to registered delegates only) one week before the conference starts. This has shown to considerably improve the quality of discussions by giving participants an opportunity to read the manuscripts before the presentation.
- The presentation slot includes 10 minutes of Q&A moderated by the session organisers, which has proven to be a great contribution for the overall value of the event.
- The abstract sections of all manuscripts are openly shared in the conference website in a compiled “Book of abstracts,” increasing awareness and interest in the conference technical content.
A key aspect of shaping UComms is collecting feedback from participants. Just like in previous editions, an anonymous online survey was conducted to which 57 participants kindly responded.
The responses collected show us that:
- 98% of participants were either “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the conference. One participant declared to being “neither satisfied nor unsatisfied”.
- 98% found the technical content to be either “very strong” or “strong”.
- 91% found the networking opportunities to be “extremely useful” or “very useful”.
- In terms of location, 51% prefer to keep the conference in Lerici again while 21% favor a rotating location. 13% voted to keep it in Europe while 9% voted to move it around in Italy.
- Concerning format, schedule and periodicity, the vast majority agrees with keeping it a biennial event, single track, with 25 minutes per presentation to accommodate discussions over 3 days.
Future UComms Conferences
Following the encouraging feedback from authors, participants and sponsors, we will, with no doubt, aim at continuing to organize UComms.
Several institutions from different locations in the world have expressed the willingness to host UComms in the future. This is certainly appealing as a possible way to maintain vitality of the conference series. No decisions have been made and we are certainly conscious of the participants feedback discussed above.
In any case, the aim will remain to organize an event where the leading scholars and practitioners want to be. For this to happen, technical quality needs to remain the central focus. Additionally, we are well aware of the importance of creating a relaxed, pleasant and collegial environment where open discussions can create the sparks of change. Good hospitality will always be important for UComms.
See you in 2024!