Visualising the seafloor on scales relevant for monitoring and planning

BioCam develops 3D visual imaging technology for seafloor mapping applications. The short range of most colour imaging systems typically requires underwater robots to carefully navigate underwater terrains at altitudes of just a few meters. BioCam leverage advanced in lighting and high-sensitivity detector technology, which allows colour imagery to be obtained from higher altitudes of up to 10 m, allowing faster-moving vehicles to be used and larger swaths of data to be collected. This allows sub-centimetre resolution 3D visual maps to be generated over orders of magnitude wider areas (see embedded videos), and this will give scientists and engineerings access to data products that cover the multi-hectare region spatial scales that are relevant to many monitoring and infrastructure planning applications. The long-range 3D imaging technology was also used by Team Kuroshio in the Shell Ocean Discovery Xprize, who won 2nd place in the grand final.

Deployment of BioCam using Autosub6000.

Whale carcass discovered using BioCam. Dataset available on Squidle+.


This project is funded by NERC (NE/P020887/1) under the Oceanids Marine Sensor Capital program, 2017 to 2021. BioCam is part of the National Marine Facilities Technology Roadmap, and forms the basis for ship-free monitoring of offshore oil and gas infrastructure under AT-SEA (Autonomous Techniques for anthropogenic Structure Ecological Assessment, NE/T010592/1) as part of the NERC INSITE program from 2021 to 2024 where BioCam will be deployed from the National Oceanography Centre's Boaty McBoaface. We are also part of the team delivering the EU H2020 TechOceanS project from 2020 to 2024, which will develop sensing technologies for ship-free ocean sensing. Our key contribution will be to develop intelligent methods for content aware compression and transmission of data in benthic imagery, to realise near-realtime remote awareness of data bing captured in the ocean, over the low communication bandwidths available in the open ocean.

Research Expeditions

  • DY109 Mapping of Darwin Mound Cold Water Coral using Autosub6000 and BioCam off the RRS Discovery. PIs Thornton (UoS), Huvenne (NOC). See expedition page. Go to data.
  • SSK17-01 Coral mapping off Sesoko Island, Okinawa using the AUV TUNA-SAND. PIs Thornton (UoS), Maki (UTokyo), Harii (Uni. Ryukyus) Pizarro (U, Sydney), Nishida (Kyutech). Supported by the Daiwa Foundation. See article and related video. Go to data.
  • FK180731 Adaptive Robotics at Barkley Canyon & Hydrate Ridge, off the R/V Falkor of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. Lead by Thornton (UoS). See expedition page. Go to data.
  • SSK18-01 Coral mapping off Sesoko Island, Okinawa using the AUV TUNA-SAND. PIs Thornton (UoS), Harii (Uni. Ryukyus), Nishida (Kyutech). The survey took place 2 days after a direct strike from Typhoon Trami. Go to data.
  • DY108/109 Cold-Water-Coral mapping at Darwin Mounds using the AUV Autosub6000. PIs Thornton (UoS), Huveenne (NOC). See expedition page.

Shell Ocean discovery XPrize Runner Up - Team Kuroshio. See article.

Project Partners