The team of US government scientists wants to create an online hub – similar to Google’s Street View – for people to go under water while staying dry – and a selection will be available on Google Maps.
The scientists are in the Florida Keys in the hopes of applying 360-degree mapping to research and manage marine sanctuaries nationwide.
They are using basketball-shaped, triple-lens SVII cameras which use the same technology used to produce Google Street View images of neighbourhoods.
But there’s no underwater car. Instead, the 65kg riggings are tethered to scuba divers and powered through the water by small motors. Smaller versions mounted on tripods also are being tested in the Florida Keys this week.
In an hour-long dive, each camera can capture images over an area up to 20 times larger than what’s available with traditional underwater photography equipment, said project director Richard Vevers.
The technology also records GPS data and quickly stitches the images together into panoramic or 360-degree views.
The cameras and training in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for six NOAA officials are being paid for as part of a partnership with the Catlin Seaview Survey, funded by the global insurance company Catlin. Google is also a sponsor.
The images that have been produced so far from other Catlin surveys are being uploaded online to the Catlin Global Reef Record.
Some of the initial rotating and panoramic images will be available online this week, opening a window into ecosystems still difficult and costly to explore for long stretches of time.
About 400,000 images have been produced of reefs off Australia and in the Caribbean, but this is the first time the technology is being used in the US.
You can see more pictures from other underwater missions here.