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Bioinspiration Expedition 2019 – Log 3

Pilot Knute Brekke flies the MiniROV while tracking a squid. The red lights from EyeRIS light up the science camera. On the screen above, the refocused image from EyeRIS is shown. Photo: Joost Daniels

Bioinspiration Expedition 2019 – Log 3

I joined MBARI in February of this year to work with Kakani Katija and the Bioinspiration Group to build EyeRIS, perhaps the first ever deep-sea plenoptic (3D) imaging system. This project, funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, aims to develop a suite of 3D imaging systems for studying particle fields, small-scale fluid mechanics, and deformable surfaces.

We worked intensely between February and August this year to design and build the first version of the system with the hope we could deploy it on the MiniROV during the BioInspiration Group’s Western Flyer cruise this week. Everything came to together and we had the system working well in the test tank last week with high hopes for a successful cruise.

EyeRIS was deployed for the first time at the Midwater 1 site in Monterey Bay on August 14, 2019. To our delight, the hardware performed well and we recorded 3D video of a variety of gelatinous plankton, particle distributions, and flow fields.

The next day, building on the success of the previous dive, we aimed to complete a vertical transect to 1,000 meters to study changes in the concentration and spatial distribution of natural particles as a function of depth in the water column. However, as we descended we lost communications with the plenoptic camera at a depth of 300 meters.

Fearing the worst, the dive was aborted and we returned to the surface to find that one of the subsea fiber-optic cables that connect EyeRIS to the MiniROV had fractured. This was actually great news as it meant the sensitive electro-optics inside the pressure housing were okay and all that was needed to resume operations was a replacement fiber-optic cable (we had two spares).

Dive operations for EyeRIS and the MiniROV resumed bright and early on Friday morning and with the new cable we successfully completed a six-hour dive down to 1,000 meters, recording over 2 terabytes of 3D video data from a variety of animals.

Below is an example on an animal swimming in the field of view of the camera with a 3D depth overlay (orange is near, blue is far). Surrounding the animal we see a field of particles distributed in 3D that vary in size from a few hundred micrometers to a few millimeters.