VideoRay is anticipating a shake-up of its ROV inspection offerings following its acquisition of Blue Ring Imaging, a Florida-based producer of 3D photorealistic marine environment simulations for drone operations. VideoRay will now incorporate Blue Ring’s products into its 700mm x 400mm Mission Specialist Defender ROV, with the goal of eliminating the need for experienced operators and making it easier for ground crew to familiarise themselves with the ROV without extensive training, thus saving time and money.
The acquisition has also led to the formation of VideoRay Labs, a business unit that will focus on tech developments related to perception, man-machine teaming and autonomy. Casey Sapp, new VideoRay VP of strategy and emerging technology (and Blue Ring CEO), says: “VideoRay Labs will collaborate with customers on applied research projects and developing emerging technology solutions that any ROV, USV or AUV customer could apply.”
Blue Ring’s products include its OctoView graphic user interface (GUI) software – which offers mixed-reality (ie, VR and AR) views and overlays – and its OctoCAM multi-view 360°camera. OctoView has inbuilt AI assistance, enabling users to control an uncrewed vessel/vehicle with eye tracking, gesture and voice. A future release of OctoView will also incorporate ChatGPT.
The OctoCAM, meanwhile, will enable the Mission Specialist Defender’s remote pilot to see all around the ROV, as well as above and below. Sapp tells Ship & Boat International: “The camera will also provide macro-stereoscopy to enable seeing 3D depths at close ranges where manipulators do all of their work.”
Blue Ring and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, California conducted tests in which the OctoCAM was used in conjunction with manipulator grabbing and cutting tasks. Manipulators are becoming more common among survey/inspection bots, which can utilise them for tasks including cutting fish farm nets, opening/closing valves, disconnecting cables, welding pipelines and cleaning underwater equipment. The OctoCAM then streamed visual information from the work zone into the end user’s headset. The tests found that the time taken to complete each task was “cut in half” for both new and experienced ROV users. “This means a large commercial ROV services company could potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars,” Sapp claims.
He continues: “When it comes to using manipulators to defuse bombs and conduct inspections, a monocular camera does not enable the operator to understand distance, so pilots tend to run into things and not know how to triangulate where the arm positions. With a multi-view, 360°camera, users can swoop in and perform these tasks with much more intuition and speed.”
The ability to see through the headset is crucial, Sapp explains, “because things are moving from tablets and mobile phones to headsets over the next five to 10 years”. He continues: “The value includes the ability to connect different people in teams, the 3D information and mixed-reality overlays. Headsets give a sense of presence and embodiment where you feel like you are the vehicle, not just controlling the vehicle – which is important when doing complicated tasks.”
Sapp opines that the future of uncrewed systems will inevitably involve man-machine teaming: essentially, the act of placing a human in the loop to perform manual tasks while the other autonomy-enabled processes take place. He describes this as “a hand-off between what the robot can do on its own and what the human has to do”. So, for example, he highlights: “Over time, there is more autonomy taking place, but there are critical times when the operator needs to be in the loop. You can set a waypoint for a robot to go from point A to point B, and an operator doesn’t need to control the ROV. However, when he gets to a pier and has to thread through it to do a survey or inspection, the ROV is not capable of doing that autonomously. That’s when a human takes over.”