Divestreaming from ROV SuBastian

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) SuBastian

By Asta Zerue Habtemichael

The deep sea is one of the most intriguing parts of our planet, and it has barely been explored. Recent advances in imaging technology on ROVs have exponentially increased our ability to discover, visualize, understand and share information about the deep sea. An outstanding example is SuBastian, an ROV owned by the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) and operated from on board the RV Falkor (too).

SOI strives to bring the deep sea to the public through livestreaming expedition dives, or “divestreaming,” via ROV SuBastian. Through this work, SOI provides near-real-time access to the ocean worldwide for scientists, artists, students and ocean enthusiasts. This effort has shifted perspectives and understanding of the deep sea by facilitating interactive engagement with multiple audiences. To date, SOI has conducted more than 530 underwater dives with ROV SuBastian, totaling more than 2,415 hr. of deep-sea exploration.

ROV SuBastian is designed for scientific research and outfitted with features that maximize exploration and research outputs from each dive. SuBastian’s scientific arsenal includes a multi-core sediment sampler, Niskin bottles for sampling water from different depths, sensors to collect biochemical and physical data from the deep sea, and multi-chamber bioboxes to collect and store specimens for onshore investigation. The ROV’s modular design can accommodate any sensor or instrumentation brought on board by the scientists to enhance research capabilities. Key to the divestream is the use of high-quality cameras to visually explore and characterize the seafloor’s frontiers of biodiversity by capturing imagery of rare species, such as the Ram’s Horn Squid and Glass Octopus, and more than 50 new species.

SuBastian is the first public-facing ROV to be equipped with a SULIS Z70 4K camera. The subsea camera has high light sensitivity and a large pixel area that allows it to capture images under low illumination, even in the darkest areas of the seafloor. The initial design of SuBastian took into account the challenges of having a suitable optical system at depth. The camera and port system positioning optimizes the field of view for better imagery. The small camera size allows for a forward-extendable camera housing platform, increasing the field of view while expanding the camera zoom capacity to capture outstanding imagery. 

In addition, SuBastian is equipped with four Multi SeaCam high-definition cameras and an Insite Pacific Mini Zeus deepwater video camera. The ROV pilots and onboard scientists use these cameras to navigate, observe and record footage. ROVs with such advanced cameras allow us virtual presence in places humans can’t access. With live navigation of the ROV, researchers and explorers can correct on the fly and make quick decisions as they investigate new species and seafloor habitats. For example, ROV SuBastian has collected rare footage of Magnapinna squids during the In Search of Hydrothermal Lost Cities expedition and new hydrothermal vent fields during the Hydrothermal Vents of the Western Galapagos expedition.

The footage from the 4K camera is transmitted through six dedicated fiber-optic cables with lowest glass-to-glass latency, enabling fast transmission and enhancing ROV manipulation and response. Once transmitted, the footage is recorded and stored on RV Falkor (too)’s servers. On board Falkor (too), a multimedia technician curates the footage using a digital video recording system (DVR) and collects still images for scientific annotation via the frame grab. An Evertz digital matrix (DM) stores and broadcasts video through a worldwide distribution system that livestreams on the web. The recorded footage is also delivered via satellite connection to an onshore team, which provides quality assurance, adds metadata where needed and archives the footage. All footage are archived in PhotoShelter-powered galleries of organized collections for quick and easy retrieval upon request. 

All of the imagery from ROV SuBastian is freely available for noncommercial purposes via a Creative Commons License. Artists, students, community groups, authors, documentarians and others can request other free licensing of SOI footage for education purposes. SOI’s deep-sea imagery has been used in various ways, including in illustrated children’s books, high-level textbooks, documentaries, Sundance independent films, projected backgrounds for orchestral concerts, video games and Times Square billboards, to name a few. The footage can easily fit any visual medium.

RV Falkor (too) and ROV SuBastian can take us to places where humans can’t physically travel, so we can observe and interact with an unknown world. Advanced imagery from the ROV facilitates close investigation into objects in the field of view, which cuts costs while increasing return on investment for each dive. Scientific results are maximized with the advanced imagery system, and dives are more flexible, enhancing human understanding of the deep sea. The free access to ROV SuBastian’s imagery allows collaborations to flourish, facilitating discoveries of new ecosystems and increasing public engagement with the deep sea.

Learn more at: https://schmidtocean.org.


Asta Zerue Habtemichael is the 2023 Schmidt Ocean Institute science communications intern and is pursuing his doctoral degree in chemical oceanography at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography. He is a committed educator who works on science education and research projects focused on inclusive learning and research spaces. 

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