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A team of engineers and scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have developed a revolutionary new camera system that works without batteries, transmits data wirelessly, and functions underwater, using underwater sound waves.

Scientists worldwide believe that over 95 percent of the seas on Earth have never been observed. As a result, we know more about space and other planets than our oceans on Earth. Sending a camera down to the depths of our ocean wasn’t an option, mainly because doing something like that would need a hardwired connection between the Earth’s surface to a research vessel or mission vessel so that its batteries may be regularly recharged.

So, the engineers had to develop a power delivery and storage system that could sustain itself without relying on traditional sources such as solar or hydroelectricity. They ended up with an underwater camera that is nearly 100,000 times more energy efficient than any existing underwater camera.

The camera uses specialized piezoelectric materials to transform mechanical energy from sound waves passing through water into electrical power. They use the mechanical energy from sounds or waves created by swimming fish, ships, or submarines given nearby or somewhere in the distance. The camera transmits data to a receiver outside the water, using sound waves to reconstruct the image. Sound waves travel much better in water than they do in the air.

The camera can take color images even in a dim underwater environment while wirelessly sending them via the water.

The camera can run continuously for many weeks without a power supply, enabling scientists to observe and research unexplored regions under our oceans and look for new species, marine pollution, and the consequences of climate change.

The team of researchers was led by Associate Professor Fadel Antib of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of MIT’s Media Lab. The team is working to enhance further and increase the new camera’s memory. They are also working on a feature that would enable the new camera to capture video underwater.

The US Office of Naval Research partially funded the research and development of the camera, so in all likelihood, this will see military and naval applications. As a result, there is minimal scope for the device or something similar to make its way to the open market anytime soon.

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