The Installation Story,
The process of installing an underwater, Internet-controlled camera has numerous twists and turns as we try to figure out how to really do something that hasn't really been done yet in quite this challenging way. There is no store to go to and buy everything one would require to place the camera underwater, get the signal back to land and then onto the Internet where you can see it and then move the camera to look more closely at something you see. Watch this page for updates as we work to overcome each obstacle.
The JASON project delivers a video camera and a Plexiglas housing for us to install on the reef. With the help of Vince from EDS, a cable is made to take the signals from the video camera to our big lecture hall where the JASON project will be seen by Bermuda schoolchildren. The cables go to two computers: one takes the video information and converts it into a format that can be sent over the Internet (digitizing) and the other controls the movement of the camera based on signals received from kids watching the JASON program. The signals leave BBSR on telephone cables installed for the program by our sponsors for JASON, the Cable & Wireless company.
There is no time to install the camera on the reef and the cable is not strong enough to go into the ocean so we put it into a big plastic tank. Helped by Dan Hellin and Molly Kile, two of our technicians, the tank is filled with the beautiful pink sand that Bermuda is famous for and with a variety of fish, plants, corals, and invertebrates like sea anemones and lobsters. The tank is quickly dubbed the "fish prison".
Once the JASON project was over, we took the camera out of the water and cleaned the surface of the case really well. We were surprised at how little stuff had grown on the outside in the three weeks! All of it came off by rubbing hard with a cloth and there were no scratches on the Plexiglas. We are worried that keeping the outside clean will be really hard once it is really in the ocean. Why should it be different? Well, since the water for the tank came from just off our dock where the water is not clear, we filtered it before letting it into the tank. Another reason to filter it was because our big ship, the RV Weatherbird II, is docked there and when it leaves to do research offshore, its big engines really stir up mud from the bottom and we didn't want to have people only able to see one inch in from of the camera! Finally we just put the camera back into its shipping box to wait for us to figure out where to put it on the reef.
One of the possible places for the camera is just off the south shore of Bermuda where the reef is very close to the shore. We decided to look at the reef off the NASA facility. There is plenty of land there and it sticks out close to the reef.
The picture shows Tina, Pete Countway, a graduate student and Dr. Fred Lipshultz checking our scuba tanks. In the background you can see on the left the RV Stommel, a 42 ft workboat and on the right is the 115 ft RV Weatherbird II.
We had to get some other equipment together since we wanted to be able to show others what the site looked like and needed to know how far offshore we had gone. We took an underwater video camera and a BIG tape measure.
The tape is 50 meters long! Starting very near the shore, Pete would swim the tape out towards the reef and I would hold the end. When he got near the end of the tape, I would pull hard twice to let him know to stop swimming. Then I would swim towards him and rewind the tape. Once we were together, I would videotape a circle around us to document what it looked like at that point. We kept doing it until we had gone 7 times and were nearly out of air.
We took a 21 ft boat called Entropy piloted by Nancy Stevens, our divemaster over to NASA. It took about 15 minutes and the ride was a bit bumpy towards the end
as the seas were quite rough as you can see in this picture looking out from the boat towards the breaking waves on the reefs.
Once back in the boat, we headed for home, still wet as we passed the NASA satellite dish. So what did we see? Well, the reef there was not very pretty and there was a lot of bubbles and silt in the water because of the waves hitting the reef so all in all it was not a good site.
We could go further offshore than the 7 x 50m that we surveyed but it would make the project much more expensive because we would need to amplify or boost the camera signal after 950 ft and each foot of the cable costs about $3.50! There are several houses further along the south shore that we might be able to use to house the computers so I guess I will be diving some more!
End of April, 1998
I got a call from Tom Coelho at North Rock Communications, our new Internet service company for BBSR. He had heard about our project to install a camera and thought that his company could help if we put the camera at North Rock which is a tiny rock about 7 miles north of Bermuda. It has a small, unmanned lighthouse and is the last land before you reach Canada! BBSR has a weather station there that sends information back to BBSR by radio and the electricity comes from solar panels. Some of the most beautiful reefs are right next to the rock and so it would make a perfect site!
As we talked, we thought about many different issues that could sink the idea. We needed to; 1) get the pictures from way out there back to shore, 2) have some place on shore to receive the signal and store the computers that then put the images onto the Internet, 3) get the signal from there to Tom's business so that he can put it on the Internet and finally we need to send commands back to the camera to control where it looks and the zoom. Tom said that we could use his old bedroom in his parent's house to store the computers and put the antenna to receive the signal because the house overlooks the North Shore and you can see the lighthouse from there. This is critical since the signal has to have a "line of sight." He would take care of getting a fast Internet connection into the house.
Then we faced the question of actually how to get the pictures back to shore. Neither of us are experts at that so we agreed to ask around to see who was recommended. I immediately thought of the company that helps theJASON project with their communications, TotalRF. I called Jim Malone and we had a great talk (actually I mostly listened) as he knew exactly what was needed! They will use microwaves to beam the signal back. The same microwaves as are in your oven at home, but rather than bouncing around inside the shielded oven heating water, there is a transmitter that points a pencil thin beam back to the receiver on Tom's house. He could then use a radio to send the control information for moving the camera back to a receiver on North Rock.
I just got my boat fixed and decided to take it out to North Rock and scout the site. The weather was clear but with a few white caps as we drove the 7 miles out there from BBSR. It takes about 20 minutes with the last 5 minutes going slowly as you pick your way through the reefs out to the permanent buoy. This buoy is maintained by BBSR, and it is there to moor the boats which replaces the need for an anchor which could cause damage to the reef. As you can see, North Rock is a small lighthouse beacon sitting on a concrete base which sits on an underwater ledge. You can see the waves breaking over the ledge. At the top you can see the weather station and the solar panel used to charge the batteries that run the beacon at night. We could put our microwave transmitter on the stainless steel ring if it doesn't interfere with the beacon signal. Alternatively we might have to have it down on the concrete base to be out of the way.
Well, we hit the usual problem: money. The cost of installing the camera and microwaving it back from north Rock is more that we have budgeted. What to do? As a US not-for-profit organization, our first approach is to look for donations! We have prepared several letters to companies and individuals here in Bermuda who might be interested in the project asking them to consider supporting the additional cost. This is a long process and we hope to know by mid-August whether we can find a donor. If not, then we will need to go back to the cable idea which limits us to about 1000 - 2000 ft (300 - 600 m) from shore.