As the Oceans ’14 conference got under way in St. John’s last week a local startup debuted the 3D underwater visualization system it has been working on for several years.

Whitecap Scientific has developed a product called ROV3D, which creates interactive three-dimensional diagrams of underwater structures and objects using information collected by cameras on un-manned rovers. The company has been working for three years at the Genesis Centre – the Memorial University commercialization centre – with the goal of improving companies’ ability to view underwater topography and structures with un-manned craft. Just in time for the annual conference for ocean industries, the team has concluded its working prototype and is engaging with several potential customers.

“We’re working closely with people who want it,” said CEO Sam Bromley in his office on Friday, as he and his staff scrambled to prepare for the Oceans conference. “We’re doing trials this month, and we’ll be ready to sell our first dozen products very soon.”

Whitecap has been a mainstay of the Genesis Centre group of companies for the past several years, and has been working to improve the way people use remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, to view undersea structures. The problem with current techniques is it is difficult to view the video footage that comes back from the ocean floor. There are problems with depth perception, and the viewers can become dizzy or nauseous after viewing for hours.

The Whitecap team originally set out to improve the quality of video collected by ROVs, using a stereo-camera system to collect 3D video and allow the viewer to watch it longer without adverse side effects.

However, it learned there were problems inherent with using video itself to conduct underwater inspections: it took hours to watch video; the viewer had to go back to locate the footage that showed a problem; it was difficult to compare one inspection with the last one, because there was no way the ROV would follow the exact same course as before.

So ROV3D does not require the viewer to sift through hours of video. It takes the video collected by an ROV and uses it to construct a 3D model instantly that can be viewed from any angle on a monitor. If the viewer is inspecting the model and notices something that needs attention, he or she can stick a virtual pin in the questionable location to easily find the trouble spots later. It’s a far more effective way to note problem spots than a written list of where to look on a stream of video.

One interesting feature of the technology is the viewer can keep alibrary of inspections and quickly compare one year’s model to previous versions, to look for corrosion or other problems.

Bromley said the range of applications for ROV3D is vast. It can be used for underwater field surveys in the oil and gas industry or pipeline surveys or annual inspections of subsea structures. ROV3D can even survey the biodiversity of a field before a drilling operation, then help to make sure the field returns to its original state after a field is decommissioned.