Pioneering Camera Technology

PIONEERING CAMERA TECHNOLOGY REVOLUTIONISES OUR VIEW OF THE OCEAN It is smart technology designed to look beautiful too - like something from a James Bond movie. The SVII camera system is revolutionary and it is completely transforming how we can see the aquatic world, with striking results. By the time the Catlin Seaview Survey has completed its work the SVII will have surveyed the majority of the world’s major reefs, it has already captured tens of thousands of images over hundreds of kilometres of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It is delighting scientists and is capturing an enormous audience online where some of the images it has captured can be accessed on Google Maps. Richard Vevers, Director of the Catlin Seaview Survey said: “We began developing the camera in 2010 with the aim of revealing the underwater world to a global audience. Using three very wide angle lenses mounted on a special head at the front of a scooter, we have created a Submersible Vehicle camera system which creates panoramic images.” In developing the SV camera the obstacles included research into the best cameras and lenses, a design for the domes to house the cameras and experiments with designs for the scooter so the unit remains maneuverable even in high currents. Initial trials took place in what Richard Vevers describes as a controlled location: the shark tank of Sydney’s aquarium. Here camera angles and the best configuration for the multi- lens head were tested and refined. The result was the SVII camera which is now being deployed on the Great Barrier Reef.

“The first model proved to be cumbersome. The complexity of synchronizing its three cameras and the checking of numerous wires and connections meant each use took almost 8 hours to set up” Vevers explained. “It proved the concept, but was not a viable solution in any sense.” “We learned a lot about the correct ISO speeds and made major modifications to enable access to the data captured without having to dismantle the sealed camera units. We also devised a control system operated from a tablet computer which means our divers can adjust ISO and exposure easily.” Other important elements were addressed, including the inclusion of a floating buoy to carry a GPS unit so the location of every image can be identified precisely. The SVII camera has two uses: first, to really inspire and engage the public with scientific discovery and second, to capture visual data for scientists studying the health of reef systems. Richard Vevers wanted the design to be the best it could be. “We needed something that not only did the job, but looked fantastic too, if we were to really capture people’s imaginations. How it looked was vital. We like to think what we have now has more of a Ferrari look to it. It performs beautifully in the water, something like a seal, naturally slick and maneuverable in the water.” In fact the camera is neutrally buoyant. The diver controlling it is equipped with a lift bag to attach to the SVII if it needs to be raised to the surface quickly. Its performance speaks for itself. Since the Catlin Seaview Survey began its first expedition in mid-September it has surveyed 140 kilometres of reef. The images it captures can all be stitched together to create astonishing ‘virtual dives’ which can be viewed on Google Maps, the viewer controlling where to look. According to Richard Vevers it has opened up the ocean to millions more people. “In a very real sense this is as close as you can get to a dive experience without getting wet.” Now the SV camera concept is producing great results, the team has moved on and is planning several new models. Its next innovation will be a version that can be operated wirelessly with the camera ‘orb’ talking to its controller without any wired umbilical chord. Next will come a smaller version, the SVIV. At half the size it will be more portable, fitting into a suitcase, but with an even more powerful four camera head and higher resolution output. Further down the line the team will work on a fully autonomous underwater vehicle camera which will have a range of 12 kilometres (7.5 miles). Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, is leading the team of scientists working with the Catlin Seaview Survey. “We are getting well over ten times the data we’ve had before. And the SVII is producing data sixteen times faster that it was possible to capture with old sampling techniques.” “These high definition images will serve as an important visual and scientific baseline. Because of the camera we have the capacity to cover large areas of reef and at a relatively low cost. It is extremely exciting.”