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Subsea ToF camera prototype developed for marine surveys in murky water

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A prototype subsea camera based on time-of-flight imaging has been developed that can see two to three times further underwater than existing cameras.

The camera is being built as part of EU project UTOFIA (underwater time of flight image acquisition), led by Scandinavian research organisation SINTEF. It is designed for detecting pollution on the seabed, and for carrying out marine species surveys and subsea inspection and maintenance.

The UTOFIA project has a budget of €5.7 million and will continue until 2018. It is incorporated as part of the European research programme Horizon 2020. The other partners in the project are Bright Solutions, a Fraunhofer institute, Odos Imaging, Subsea Tech, AZTI and DTU Aqua.

The camera will also be able to calculate distances to objects. Marine researchers hope to use the camera to determine how many fish and other marine organisms are living in the water and on the seabed, and their size.

The first version of the new system has produced much clearer images than a standard camera system in a recent demonstration. In the tests, the prototype was compared to a standard camera when imaging a target on the seabed in Oslo Fjord in an area characterised by turbid water.

‘The new camera will provide better general and detailed imaging, and an entirely different database to that we are used to,’ said project manager Jens Thielemann at SINTEF.

The monitoring of marine organisms depends not only on being able to classify species and count individuals, but also an ability to calculate their size.

Currently, data on marine species is collected using sonar and traditional video cameras. Sonar can detect objects over longer distances, but does not resolve details, while video cameras can observe organisms on the sea floor, but are unable to determine their size or numbers.

The new camera could be mounted on remote operating vehicles or installed on sleds or the hulls of surface vessels to monitor keys areas of the seabed.

‘The biggest problem with traditional cameras is that their range is reduced in poor visibility, particularly in coastal waters made turbid by suspended sand and clay particles. Such cameras have a very limited range under these conditions,’ said Thielemann.

‘The new images provide better data and information. High-quality visual imaging also makes it easier to communicate the information to external parties,’ Thielemann continued. ‘For example, occurrences of dead organisms on the seabed must be reported to the authorities, and in such cases it helps to have a picture.’

The components for the camera technology have been developed at a number of centres across Europe, while SINTEF has assumed responsibility for project management, assembly of the components and image analysis.

New tests will be carried out in Copenhagen in February 2016, and in the summer the first version of the camera will be ready.

Further information:

UTOFIA

SINTEF

Bright Solutions

Odos Imaging

Subsea Tech

AZTI

DTU Aqua

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