A team of engineers and scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has developed a radical new camera system which operates without batteries, transmits data over a wireless network and functions underwater using underwater sound waves.

Scientists around the world believe that more than 95 percent of the seas on Earth have never been observed. As a result, we know more about space and other planets than we do about Earth’s oceans. Sending a camera deep into our ocean was not an option, mainly because it would require a wired connection between the Earth’s surface and a research or mission vessel so that its batteries could be regularly charged.

Therefore, engineers had to develop an energy supply and storage system that could sustain itself without relying on traditional sources such as solar or hydroelectricity. The result is an underwater camera that is nearly 100,000 times more energy efficient than any existing underwater camera.

The camera uses special piezoelectric materials to convert the mechanical energy of sound waves passing through water into electrical energy. They mainly use mechanical energy from sounds or waves created by swimming fish, ships or submarines passing nearby or even somewhere in the distance. The camera transmits data to a receiver outside the water, again using sound waves that reconstruct the image. Sound waves travel much better in water than in air.

The camera is capable of taking color images even in dim underwater environments by sending them across the water via a wireless network.

The camera can operate continuously for many weeks without a power source, allowing scientists to observe and explore unexplored regions beneath our oceans and look for new speciesmarine pollution and effects of climate change.

The group of researchers was led by Associate Professor Fadel Antib from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the MIT Media Lab. The team is working to further improve and increase the memory of the new camera. They are also working on a feature that will allow the new camera to shoot video underwater.

Research and development of the camera was partially funded by the US Office of Naval Research, so it is likely that see military and naval applications. As a result, there is very little chance of the device or anything similar hitting the open market anytime soon.