Surfing sailors keep watch on the babies

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The Independent Online
SAILORS could be soon be bonding with their unseen new born babies via the Internet.

Instead of having to wait until they return home, mariners will be able to have live pictures of their babies beamed over to them by electronic mail.

And that, say psychologists, will make for better bonding, contented sailors and happier marriages.

Although live images can be sent via the Internet, the problem with communications with ships is that they rely on expensive satellite time which the vessels need for other purposes.

Now scientists at the Department of Maritime Studies at the University of Wales, Cardiff, have pioneered a system which compresses Internet signals into a short time and allows messages to be sent via satellite links.

Researchers at the centre, led by Professor Tony Davies, have also developed a low cost camera system that allows slow-scan pictures to be transmitted to ships anywhere in the world.

The team believe that their work will revolutionise life on the ocean waves, by not only allowing mariners to have closer links with home, but also to surf the net while they are at sea.

"We have been looking at whole issue of Internet use on board ships for some time. Although companies do have e-mail, use is restricted because it is expensive. Our system means that wives could communicate with husbands via the Internet wherever they are. They could talk... and send video pictures," said Professor Davies.

Since the team started the work they have received dozens of messages from seamen's wives keen to see the system up and running.

"Men can be at sea for considerable periods of time and certainly this system could be used to send images of babies to them. We are now hoping to start some live testing as soon as possible," said Professor Davies.

The Cardiff team says that the same kind of technology, using a narrow band width, could also be used by seamen for studying while at sea.

The US Navy has also been working on a baby bonding service aimed at helping its sailors who can spend up to a year away from home.

"Psychological reports suggest that the images help the bonding process considerably. Men do not feel they are missing out so much and are not as anxious as they might otherwise be," said a spokesman.