Fluid Lensing System for Imaging Underwater Environments
Fluid lensing exploits optofluidic lensing effects in two-fluid interfaces. When used in such interfaces, like air and water, coupled with computational imaging and a unique computer vision-processing pipeline, it not only removes strong optical distortions along the line of sight, but also significantly enhances the angular resolution and signal-to-noise ratio of an otherwise underpowered optical system. As high-frame-rate multi-spectral data are captured, fluid lensing software processes the data onboard and outputs a distortion-free 3D image of the benthic surface. This includes accounting for the way an object can look magnified or appear smaller than usual, depending on the shape of the wave passing over it, and for the increased brightness caused by caustics. By running complex calculations, the algorithm at the heart of fluid lensing technology is largely able to correct for these troublesome effects. The process introduces a fluid distortion characterization methodology, caustic bathymetry concepts, Fluid Lensing Lenslet Homography technique, and a 3D Airborne Fluid Lensing Algorithm as novel approaches for characterizing the aquatic surface wave field, modeling bathymetry using caustic phenomena, and robust high-resolution aquatic remote sensing. The formation of caustics by refractive lenslets is an important concept in the fluid lensing algorithm. The use of fluid lensing technology on drones is a novel means for 3D imaging of aquatic ecosystems from above the water's surface at the centimeter scale. Fluid lensing data are captured from low-altitude, cost-effective electric drones to achieve multi-spectral imagery and bathymetry models at the centimeter scale over regional areas. In addition, this breakthrough technology is developed for future in-space validation for remote sensing of shallow marine ecosystems from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). NASA's FluidCam instrument, developed for airborne and spaceborne remote sensing of aquatic systems, is a high-performance multi-spectral computational camera using Fluid lensing. The space-capable FluidCam instrument is robust and sturdy enough to collect data while mounted on an aircraft (including drones) over water.