In many ways, we know more about outer space billions of miles away than our deep oceans here on Earth. Only 5% of the oceans were observed, and to remedy that, MIT engineers built a battery-free underwater camera to take deep-sea exploration to the next level. It is fascinating!
The overarching goal is to keep an eye on the environment and to report pollution and climate damage. The length of time the camera can remain underwater without assistance is paramount as battery replacement is costly.
Photo description from MIT: “Fadel Adib (left), associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of the signaling kinetics group at the MIT Media Lab, and research assistant Waleed Akbar demonstrate the self-powered wireless underwater camera her group developed.”
To get around this, MIT researchers are converting ambient ocean noise (sonic energy) into electricity, enough to take color photos and transmit them wirelessly without a battery. Such skills allow researchers to place the camera in places they don’t need to retrieve it regularly, improving the chances of finding new species.
The energy is harvested from piezoelectric materials that convert any force applied to them into electricity. Once enough energy has been harvested, it can be released and used to capture and transmit photos.
The communication system also benefits from piezoelectric materials using a Backscatter Crosslinking (PDF link) Technology that is many orders of magnitude (thousands of times) more energy efficient than conventional network technologies. Instead of emitting energy to transmit a signal, the device essentially reflects (or does not reflect) ambient energy to emit digital 0s and 1s.
So far, the camera can transmit 40 meters underwater, which does not qualify as “deep sea,” but much work is being done to expand this capability. The development of a battery-free underwater camera is a remarkable technical achievement. Letting it work deeper and deeper is the next level.
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