By Evan Kovacs, Marine Imaging Technology
Over the years, our team has been asked to survey wrecks all over the world. Our practice is to employ the best tools that budget and platforms allow for all aspects of the job, whether it be diver, robot, or even submersible. More and more often, the primary tool for initial exploration and planning has become a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). ROVs are certainly not new, but their size and drop in price is making them a much more integrated part of the survey process, even in shallower SCUBA-accessible depth waters.
During many ROV surveys, especially in waters less than 300 meters (984 feet), we have been asked to build and integrate high-end cameras onto small vehicles that have made for some interesting configurations - the ROVs looked more like giant camera tubes with thrusters than designed vehicles. In 2017, with the intention of balancing aesthetic appeal with high-end functionality, Marine Imaging designed and built a new class of ROV - the “Cinema Class ROV.”
The aesthetics of the Cinema Class ROV were simple - we wanted a vehicle that looked graceful and had charisma or a “personality” to help audiences connect to it as a character or explorer in the underwater realm. Most importantly, the body of the vehicle had to be able to carry nearly any camera or scientific sensor internally with minimal integration and as much lighting as we could manage down our small tether. The result was Pixel, and not only does she have a unique look, but she can carry almost any type of large or small camera, from Ultra Hi Def (UHD) and large-format stills to stereoscopic and virtual reality cameras. She can also bring along up to 100,000 lumens of light!
Pixel has been working on projects in Europe and all across the United States for museums, documentaries, nongovernmental organizations, and government agencies and has proven herself as a filming and exploration platform that facilitates underwater storytelling and research. She was built to enable storytellers and scientists to record cinema-quality images on a small vehicle with a minimal “footprint.” So far, she has operated off full-size research ships, 24-foot vessels in the Great Lakes, small boats in Yellowstone, and even from the back of a van! For the last two years, Pixel was the principal explorer on a NOAA project where she explored the famous shipwreck Portland in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary along with other wrecks in the sanctuary. While in Stellwagen, Pixel also was modified to carry a small penetration ROV called Taz (an homage to Tasmanian Devil cartoon and the noise that Taz makes on the surface) and was able to explore deep within Portland.
For this project, Pixel will carry several UHD motion cameras and a 42-megapixel still camera while surveying the unknown target off the East Coast with NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard.