NASA has developed a special camera called the “Fluid Cam” that can see and shoot clearly through ocean waves. The resulting photos can be used by researchers to study the health of reefs.
The camera was developed by research scientist Ved Chirayath of the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. It’s based on a state-of-the-art hardware and software technique Chirayath developed called “fluid lensing.” Here’s Chirayath explaining fluid lensing back in 2014:
“Imagine you’re looking at something sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool,” NASA writes. “If no swimmers are around and the water is still, you can easily see it. But if someone dives in the water and makes waves, that object becomes distorted. You can’t easily distinguish its size or shape.”
Fluid lensing solves this problem by calculating and removing the optical distortions caused by waves at the surface of water, allowing the sensor to capture clear, sharp photos that look as though they were captured from below the surface — the details are on the centimeter scale.
The camera itself has impressive hardware and specs. On the front is a $2,300 Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH lens, and inside are 16 cores of processing power and 1 terabyte of memory. Data is transferred from the camera at a rate of 550 megabytes per second.
Here’s a new 2.5-minute NASA video in which Chirayath introduces the Fluid Cam:
“This is what will enable us to look and map out all the coastal ocean systems in the world,” Chirayath says.
“So far Fluid Cam, the imaging instrument that carries the fluid lensing software, has flown only on a drone,” NASA writes. “Someday, this technique could be flown on an orbiting spacecraft to gather image data on the world’s reefs.”