Developing real-time VR tools to enhance operations of underwater robots
Ocean conservation and climate change are at the forefront of sustainability issues facing the world today. Today, we know less about our oceans than we do about the Moon, as scientists have only studied approximately 6% of the world’s oceans. Better knowledge of our oceans and especially the deep abyss is the key to learning how to protect them and much more research will be required in the coming years to learn how best to approach and meet these challenges.
VR is a promising tool that researchers and engineers hope to use to explore and document some of the most remote places on our planet found in the deep ocean, but more development of this technology is required.
To advance this technology, a student team in Olin College’s Senior Capstone Program in Engineering (SCOPE) has partnered with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to reimagine how ROV’s are piloted and make room for new modes of collaboration that are only possible in VR. The VR camera has a 180 degree, real-time camera system that is useable at ocean depths up to 4000 meters, and can be used on a deep-sea underwater robot or remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The ROV-VR technology can capture footage of deep-sea midwater and benthic (organisms that live on, in, or near the seabed) animals and habitats in VR for the first time.
Senior engineering students will gain valuable expertise developing software for AR/VR/MR focused on ROV operators/researchers. Through this project, students are learning the critical collaboration and technical skills necessary to be successful in the workplace, while being exposed to new software applications within the field of oceanographic research.
This VR footage can also be valuable in real-time for enhancing ROV operability. The information collected during this collaboration will be shared with outreach and education partners (e.g., Stanford University, National Geographic Society) to produce media for the general public that helps educate and spread the importance of these programs which are vital to the study ocean conservation and climate change.