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MIT develops battery-free underwater camera

The new camera is powered largely by underwater sound waves.

MIT scientists say a battery-free, underwater camera could yield breakthroughs in climate change studies. Photo courtesy of Adam Glanzman/MIT
MIT scientists say a battery-free, underwater camera could yield breakthroughs in climate change studies. Photo courtesy of Adam Glanzman/MIT

Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Monday they've developed a prototype battery-free camera for underwater use, which they said could help monitor the effects of climate change.

Powered by sound waves derived from anything from a passing ship to the vocalizations of marine mammals, MIT researchers said their new underwater camera is about 100,000 times more energy efficient than conventional models. And by freeing the camera from a tether tied to a submersible vehicle or research vessel, scientists said they will eventually be able to conduct visual research for longer periods and over broader distances.

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"One of the most exciting applications of this camera for me personally is in the context of climate monitoring," Fadel Abid, an associate professor at MIT, said in a statement. "We are building climate models, but we are missing data from over 95% of the ocean."

The researchers published their findings on the underwater camera technology Monday in the journal Nature Communications.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that as greenhouse gases trap more and more heat energy from the sun, it's the oceans that wind up absorbing most of that heat. When the temperature of the world's oceans increases, it can be highly disruptive to what would be considered normal climate patterns.

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Researchers have tested the underwater camera for color imagery, images that are also transmitted via sound waves and in dark environments. MIT scientists have previously tested the primary technology behind the camera -- dubbed Underwater Backscatter Localization -- in an underwater navigation system.

With successful testing of the working camera prototype, researchers said the next step is to try it out in real-world settings. Future breakthroughs could come in the form of real-time imagery and underwater video.

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