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Aalyria and HICO plan laser links for commercial shipping

25 Oct 2023

Collaboration aims to create first-of-a-kind 'marine internet' by deploying up to 200 free-space optical links.

Aalyria Technologies, a Silicon Valley optical communications startup, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Singapore’s HICO Investment Group that could see as many as 200 free-space laser links deployed at sea.

The two firms say that they are aiming to create a “global surface marine internet” based on Aalyria’s “Tightbeam” hardware, which is said to offer link speeds of 100 Gb/s per wavelength, and use adaptive optics to deal with the additional challenges of the marine environment.

“Built upon our groundbreaking Computational Optical Receive Engine (CORE) technologies, Tightbeam was specifically developed to enhance reliability in coherent light systems used in troublesome atmospheric conditions,” states the company, which was co-founded by CEO Chris Taylor in 2022 and whose advisory board includes famed Internet pioneer Vint Cerf.

Established by shipping tycoon Tim Hartnoll, HICO is focused on opportunities in the maritime, logistics, and hospitality sectors.

Mesh networks
In a release announcing the planned deployments, Aalyria said that it was aiming to outfit thousands of marine vessels with Tightbeam laser terminals, enabling a large mesh network that would extend ground-based connectivity far into the open ocean without relying on satellites.

“Tightbeam terminals operating onshore, in harbors, or on offshore stations will connect to nearby vessels and aircraft which can then connect to other vessels and aircraft operating farther from land,” it explained.

Extending that connectivity across and among a number of ships and aircraft would create the unprecedented global surface marine internet, with links offering fiber-like speeds in locations where that has never previously been possible.

Aside from the Tightbeam laser terminals, the approach will rely on Aalyria’s “Spacetime” software platform, which is designed to orchestrate and manage complex mesh networks across nodes including satellites, ground stations, aircraft, and ships.

Aalyria boasts technical expertise in the form of co-CTOs Brian Barritt and “Nathan W.”, both former Google employees, with Barritt also bringing expertise learned at Meta, Cisco, and NASA.

Funded by Silicon Valley investors including the founders of Accel, J2 Ventures, and Housatonic, Aalyria acquired the Tightbeam and Spacetime technologies from Google following more than two decades of development.

Real-time adaptive optics
CEO Taylor said of the HICO agreement: “Tightbeam’s coherent light free-space optical capability is 100x faster, transmits 10x farther, and is more useful to more business and mission cases than all other free-space optics products today.

“Terabit laser connectivity changes the economics of the space, aviation, maritime, and terrestrial markets. HICO sees this future and shares a common vision.

“Our customers create new networks at revolutionary price points that leverage the most advanced AI in Spacetime with real-time adaptive optics in Tightbeam to bring secure, high-speed reliable networking to the world.”

HICO’s CEO, Chris Hartnoll, added: “The shipping industry has played a critical role in creating the global economy of today and will now play a critical role in the future of telecommunications.

“Aalyria’s high-speed laser communication will allow us to create a new optical network above the sea that delivers highly efficient and high capacity communication between vessels, offshore infrastructure, and remote areas.”

Aside from the MoU with HICO, Aalyria has signed a deal intended to help advance its technology with satellite network giant Intelsat, while earlier this year it won a $7 million contract to work on the first phase of the US Navy’s Secure Optical Aerial Relay (SOAR) project.

“The goal of SOAR is to provide a robust, low latency, high-bandwidth free space optical communication capability for warfighting scenarios,” said the firm at the time.

IDS Imaging Development SystemsSchaefter und Kirchhoff GmbHLaCroix Precision OpticsPhoton Lines LtdECOPTIKKentek CorporationCeNing Optics
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