Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research's (ONR) TechSolutions program, the Flashing Light to Text Converter (FLTC) features a camera that can be mounted atop a signal lamp to receive Morse code bursts from another lamp within view. A hand-held device or laptop computer is connected to this camera to display text messages sent and received.

U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released.

Linking the commercially available camera and device, is a proprietary converter that uses specialized algorithms to process incoming light flashes into high frequency signals that are then converted to text messages. To reply to a text, a sailor can use the device to type a response that is sent back as a Morse code message via specially powered LED lights that flash automatically.

Since World War II, the process for sending messages using signal lamps has barely changed. It requires someone trained in Morse code to operate the lamp's shutter by hand, and involves a lot of time receiving, decoding, and replying to messages. Using FLTC, sailors can quickly and easily type and send messages — with fewer mistakes — even if they don't know Morse code. The system is very intuitive because it mirrors the messaging systems used on smart phones. You just type your message and send it with the push of a button.

FLTC would be useful in certain “communications-denied” scenarios at sea where satellite communications is risky or unavailable. It could also be extremely valuable if a ship's main communications go down or if it needs to maintain a low electronic signature to avoid detection by an adversary.

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Photonics & Imaging Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2019 issue of Photonics & Imaging Technology Magazine.

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