Navy signal lights

Navy applies new tools to old signals tech

An update to a 200-year-old communications technology might make it possible for the Navy to speed the transmission of "radio silent" messages among vessels at sea.

Oil lamps with light-blocking slats allow signalmen on other vessels or on shore to send Morse code messages without creating sound or breaking radio silence. More recent versions use high-powered light bulbs, and signalmen flip the slats to send the code.

The Office of Naval Research's TechSolutions tested its Flashing Light to Text Converter in June, which would enable sailors to quickly and easily type and send messages -- with fewer mistakes -- even if they don’t know Morse code. The test came in response to a 2016 request from the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center.

FLTC features a camera mounted atop a signal lamp that homes in on Morse code bursts from another lamp within view and a connected handheld device or laptop computer that displays the text of sent and received messages.

The commercially available camera and computer are linked via a proprietary technology that processes incoming light flashes into high-frequency signals and converts them into text messages. To reply to a text, a sailor can type a response, which is sent as Morse code via specially powered LED lights that flash automatically.

In the successful June test, the system sent Morse code between cruiser USS Monterey and destroyer USS Stout as the vessels sat pier-side at Naval Station Norfolk, Va.

Instead of a single high-powered xenon bulb in the lamp, the next series of tests will use an LED array, which could transmit thousands of characters per second.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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