This sound-powered underwater camera could reveal deep-ocean secrets

Plus: Gaming tech for surgery pain.

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You may have taken a GoPro on a scuba trip and captured some sweet footage of fluorescent fish or sleepy-looking sea turtles. But imagine a device that’s 100,000 times more energy-efficient than other undersea cameras and can deliver clear footage even from the water’s dark depths.

A new camera designed by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can do all that and more, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

The team hopes that their technology can be used to discover unknown parts of the world’s oceans — after all, we haven’t yet explored over 95 percent of them.

What’s new — Typically, underwater cameras take a lot of work to power over long periods. They either need to be attached to a research ship, or a vessel is sent over to recharge a camera’s batteries.

But the MIT team have developed a battery-free camera that can transmit image data wirelessly through the water. It’s powered by sound: The device creates mechanical energy from sound waves that travel through water. After it snaps a photo, the camera also uses sound waves to send data to a receiver that reconstructs the shot.

This device is 100,000 more energy-efficient than other undersea cameras and can change the way scientists conduct deep-ocean research.

Adam Glanzman

A crucial ocean snapshot — The camera can harvest sound waves from a variety of sources, like marine critters or passing ships. To keep energy consumption low, the researchers incorporated low-power imaging sensors — but these can only take grayscale images. That’s why the camera shines red, green, and blue LEDs when the shutter goes off.

Since it doesn’t require a power source, this nifty camera could run for weeks on end before it’s retrieved from the water. It could help scientists look for new species in distant parts of the ocean, snap images of pollution, and monitor fish in aquatic farms. The new camera could also enhance our understanding of climate change.

“One of the most exciting applications of this camera for me personally is in the context of climate monitoring,” said study author and MIT computer science professor Fadel Adib in a press release. “This technology could help us build more accurate climate models and better understand how climate change impacts the underwater world.”

Read more about the study.

On the horizon ...

Virtual reality is best known for immersive gaming experiences, but it could become a critical tool in the operating room.

Dani Ferrasanjose/Moment/Getty Images

It turns out that VR headsets can heighten gaming experiences, immerse people in museums and art galleries, and liven up the classroom, among other creative uses. Now, they could make surgery a bit less painful.

A VR headset worn during hand surgery helps distract and relax patients — and can even manage pain on lower drug doses, according to a new article published in the journal PLOS One.

If the idea pans out, VR could help doctors rely less on anxiety- and pain-relieving medications that can result in major side effects.

Past research has found that the futuristic gaming tech can help patients chill out in certain situations, like during an endoscopy or when changing burn injury dressing. With their new study, the researchers have shown that it could work for hand surgery, too.

During their hand procedures, only four out of 17 patients using VR headsets (which were set to relaxing environments) needed a sedative. And even when they asked for the drug, they required far smaller amounts than subjects without headsets.

This experiment suggests that VR could eventually be widely deployed in hospitals as a drug-free supplement.

Read the full story to find out more.

Here’s what else we’re reading...

  • Meta is being sued for evading Apple privacy rules to track users. Engadget takes a peek.
  • Overnight EV charging is about to get pricier. But daytime charging can help ease the demand, according to The Verge.
  • San Francisco has granted police live access to private cameras. The Hill has the details.
  • A Dutch NGO claims it can clean up the entire Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The org uses huge trash-collection barriers that efficiently sweep through the litter heap, New Atlas reports.
  • NASA plans to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid today. Space.com has the smashing details.
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