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This camera eliminates the ocean waves so scientists can study coral

Seeing Beneath the Waves with Technology

Think space is the final frontier? As NASA researcher Ved Chirayath points out, scientists know more about the surface of the moon and Mars combined than the ocean floor. With a camera and artificial intelligence, however, Chirayath is working to change that. Fluid Cam is a camera system that uses fluid lensing technology in order to eliminate the distortion of waves to see more detail and study the coastal ocean systems.

Fluid Cams use a mix of hardware like the custom optics and software in order to remove the movement of the water from the image. Without the disruption of the waves, the scientists viewing the image can see the detail on the coral, down to the centimeter, along with noting if the ocean floor there is rocky or sandy, NASA says. The camera can’t see the deepest ocean floors, but removing the waves allows researchers to see details they otherwise couldn’t in otherwise clear waters, ideal for looking at coral.

NASA has been experimenting with Fluid Cams since 2015, conducting tests on how the cameras work and creating benchmarks for the camera system. The Fluid Cam has already flown on a drone (like that whale snot drone) but now NASA researchers are facing the next challenge: Managing all that data. After all, the Fluid Cam has 550 MB per second coming off the camera (enough to fill the typical laptop in 200 seconds).

Chirayath says the next step is to label the images already collected in order to develop an artificial intelligence program capable of going through the mass amount of images from Fluid Cam and collecting data on the corals. Once researchers can quickly assess all that data, the plan is to use a Fluid Cam on a satellite to monitor the health of the coral reefs.

The camera technology, however, could be used to understand more than just coral health. “We’re pushing new boundaries every day and we are going to be able to do new science at an unprecedented level,” Chirayath said. “We can actually take a multi-spectral light source and couple it with these cameras to create a whole type of new remote sensing that can be used even on Mars rovers to imaging satellites going by Pluto.”

The research is being funded by a grant from the Earth Science Technology Office.

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