[Coral-List] Virtual Reality - 360 photos and video as a tool for coral reef research?

Jon slayer jonslayer at hotmail.co.uk
Tue Sep 20 05:35:04 EDT 2016

Dear Listers,
We have been working on an underwater housing for a 360 camera and managed to trial it on a research expedition to the British Indian Ocean Territory earlier this year. There we captured underwater 360 video and on a subsequent trip to Cyprus captured a series of photospheres in various transects off the coast. The housing has since been picked up by Google and featured as a go to option for capturing user generated underwater 360 stills for posting to Street View and Google Maps.  
Although we initially thought of the housing as an audiovisual tool for virtual reality documentaries to capture the expedition activities it occurred to me while trialing it that there should be great utility for it in coral reef research where the visibility is usually reasonably good and data could be extracted from the images. Then at the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai'i Google featured the housing in their Street View Expeditions presentation and we garnered a lot of interest at our shared stand with Mission Blue - Sylvia Earle Alliance. The very broad spectrum of participants at the conference thought of using our housing in some very novel ways - as a protective case in using 360 video in tiger research as an example! Some thoughts and links follow - I would be interested in a discussion exploring how we might use or adapt this technology for coral reef research. 
In research there have been a number of suggestions, fish counts, benthic studies and BRUV work amongst others. We also had a couple of separate discussions about using the technology for damage assessments and evidence collection after ship groundings. I would welcome further suggestions for us to explore. 
The technologies obvious use is as a tool for promotion and education of the marine environment. Marine Reserves could utilize the material to illustrate the wealth of their protected areas, tour operators could promote the experiences underwater in their area of operation. Researchers could illustrate the environment with an immersive VR experience to contextualize their work.
Linked to the point above is the opportunity for community engagement. From my work with Blue Ventures in subsistence fishing communities it is apparent that large portions of the population who are dependant on marine resources do not enter the water. Only the fishermen do. This technology would be a great way to immerse the broader community in the coral reef environment and give them a greater understanding of how it works and why conservation and management is important. 
My last point is one of cost which was certainly the barrier to me getting involved in this sort of equipment when it first came onto the scene a few years ago! The cameras we are using are inexpensive consumer cameras so should be affordable for most research operations as the whole underwater package comes in at well under $1000. Further to that, Google offer a loan program of camera equipment, particularly to places that are poorly covered by Street View. Often the remote sites for marine research fit into this category!
Here is an example photosphere posted to Google Maps - https://www.google.com/maps/@34.9920803,34.0746083,3a,75y,95.55h,78t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s-cRdnb8z-KT4%2FV8cHKSkEEYI%2FAAAAAAAABc8%2F4JtvYJ12ZiMXTh8gAh579OR8tAohECoagCLIB!2e4!7i5376!8i2688!6m1!1e1 (you can navigate to other photospheres in the series using the arrows that appear on screen)
And a 360 video left in place on a coral reef - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BU6XpNac-g
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Best Regards,
Jon Slayerwww.jonslayer.tvwww.theta360bubble.com

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