Visible-Light Software-Defined Modem

Self-optimizing and adaptive networks enabling multidomain communications


Networks of autonomous and wirelessly connected sensors between unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) play a key role to accomplish a common goal in multiple domains’ applications. Some of these applications include offshore oil and gas exploration, infrastructure monitoring, tactical surveillance, and environmental monitoring. However, establishing a high data rate, robust, bi-directional communication link between aerial and underwater assets is still uncharted territory. Currently, the only viable way to establish a communication link between aerial and underwater assets is to deploy floating devices that are capable of relaying data. Floating buoys equipped with both acoustic and RF communication capabilities have been widely used as gateways between underwater and terrestrial networks. Nevertheless, such floating buoy systems are vulnerable to environmental effects such as ocean dynamics and harsh weather conditions. Moreover, in the military or other critical applications, they can be easily detected, tampered with, jammed, or deactivated. Buoys may also significantly limit the operational area of aerial and underwater assets, as it may be prohibitive to deploy them over large ocean areas in terms of time and cost. Using autonomous surface vehicles as gateways nodes or continuously operating UUVs to resurface and act as data mules are other alternative approaches. However, such modes would substantially limit operational capabilities and raise severe security issues. Therefore, new communication systems should be developed to address these challenges. 

Technology Overview

Researchers at Northeastern have designed a communication system enabling aerial and underwater assets to establish bi-directional links through the air-water interface, without requiring any relay nodes, using software-defined visible light networking. This system consists of a software-defined visible light communication (VLC) modem based on a reconfigurable System-on-Chip (SoC) architecture incorporating a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) and a general-purpose processing unit. Custom-designed VLC front end is incorporated with the processing unit, which includes LED/Laser driver with LEDs/Lasers for signal transmission, photodetector, and variable gain amplifier (VGA) for signal detection. This modem enables high data rate, robust, full-duplex, and bi-directional visible light for underwater, across the air-water interface, and aerial communication. The flexible and adaptive nature of the software-defined architecture ensures successful communication in various environmental conditions. Custom encapsulation ensures durable operation for underwater operation and mechanical steering enables directional communication between different network nodes. Communication through the air-water interface capability of this modem eliminates the usage of surface nodes such as buoys. 


  • High data rate
  • High bandwidth
  • Low latency 
  • Adaptive and flexibility of communication 
  • High Security 


  • Offshore oil and gas exploration
  • Infrastructure monitoring
  • Tactical surveillance
  • Multidomain operations 
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Multidomain swarm control 


  • Licensing
  • Research collaboration 
  • Partnership

Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Myron Kassaraba
Director of Commercialization
Northeastern University
Kerem Enhos
Emrecan Demirors
Tommaso Melodia
Optical Communication
Software-defined Networks
Visible Light Communication (VLC)