In July 2016, Director's Fellows Katy Croff Bell hosted 5 members of the Media Lab Community on a one-of-a-kind opportunity: a deep-ocean exploration off the coast of Southern California, on board of the Nautilus E/V (and its on-board partner explorers Hercules and Argus). Together with the students and research affiliates, three projects were brought on board for deployment:
We deployed a kinetic scaffold coral and other marine habitat restorations. Our computationally generated scaffold is foldable and deployable, and therefore can be transported as a flat piece and deployed into a 3D structure underwater. It is parametric as we can tune the unit sizes, surface areas, material options as well as local structural stability in our software platform before the physical construction. The deployment on the Southern California Margin cruise aboard Nautilus (NA075, pp XX) was to prove the mechanism and feasibility of deployment and recovery in the field. During the cruise, we successfully assembled, deployed, and retrieved the structure as planned. This experience gave us not only valuable lessons throughout the whole design and deployment process of project, but also deep reflection of the relation between humans and the ocean. It was known that the seascape will affect the diversity of the coral, which will in turn affect the diversity of fishes being attracted. The parametric design in our system can potentially enable the programmability of ecological diversity. With the deployable structures, we hope to create “open ocean farms”, where underwater organisms are attracted to grow within the structures, form new ecosystems, and are free to circulate in the larger, open underwater world to create “blue-green ecology.”
Open Ocean Science
Nautilus is committed to an ‘open science’ approach in its work -- sharing the process and outcomes of ocean exploration with the widest possible audience. Our project deployed two open science technologies on the Southern California Margin cruise (NA075, p XX). The first was to develop and test a research workflow using Jupyter -- a scientific computing platform that built upon open web standards and open source software. Jupyter combines rich documentation (e.g. HTML, LaTeX) with in-line, executable code (regressions, filtering, plots); the resultant ‘notebooks’ can be easily modified, shared, and published. Our second project was to enable rapid development of custom oceanography instrumentation using an ‘open hardware’ methodology, in which instrument designs and schematics are open and shared. Using inexpensive electronics along with tools in the Nautilus ROV shop, team members improvised an accelerometer and a temperature sensor (Figure 4), each of which cost less than $100 -- orders of magnitude less than commercial instrumentation -- but which performed comparably. We plan to build on the success of this deployment and to develop additional ‘open ocean science’ instrumentation -- tools that enable in-situ, on-board innovation around software and instrumentation, while providing easy access points for collaboration and learning in laboratories and in classrooms.
Deep Sea 360°
Spherical video immerses viewers deep within a real world scene, providing a powerful new tool for emotionally connecting people to otherwise inaccessible places and situations. The Southern California Margin cruise (NA075, pp XX) gave me an opportunity to experiment with spherical video in waters so deep that they lie outside the sun’s reach. To this end, I deployed a pair of slightly modified commercially-available underwater spherical cameras that are capable of safely diving to ~500 m. Deploying the cameras on an ROV at such depths entailed numerous challenges, including lack of ambient light and the use of a magnetic wand to start recording underwater. Filming on-deck and beneath the waves gave us seven spheres worth of footage, including vehicle launches and recoveries and a spectacular dive through pinnacles covered in brittle stars (Figure 5). We successfully tested the magnetic control on deck, and it is clear that the same system will work at depth when next the opportunity arises. I have edited this footage into a short VR documentary made in collaboration with, and exhibited by, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and am working on a Planetarium piece with the Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston. This expedition convinced me that it is well worth the time and effort to build a serious rig with which to make gorgeous spherical images in the deepest parts of the ocean. The science, the visuals, and most importantly, the human stories of exploration are inspiring, and deserve serious artistic and technical effort.