The RV Odyssey to Gain New “Eyes” at Night Thanks to FLIR

At Ocean Alliance we are always looking for new ways to find and track marine mammals, by day and night. Currently, for at least twelve hours a day we’re shut down, but a new technology could open up a whole new realm of studying whales at night.

FLIR team at the Paint FactoryOn Friday Peter Smart and Mark Webb from the FLIR Corporation stopped by Ocean Alliance’s headquarters at the Paint Factory in Gloucester to meet with Iain Kerr and John Graham. Peter and Mark were introduced to us by Andrew Bennett of Olin College of Engineering, our robotics partners.

FLIR means “forward-looking infrared.” The goal of FLIR is to enable sensing beyond the visible. FLIR is basically heat-centered vision. Objects don’t have to be hot to be detected by FLIR but they need to be of different temperatures. FLIR can sense temperature differences as small as one degree Fahrenheit. This technology is already used by the military and by search and rescue groups. If a disabled swimmer was lying on a beach at night he would be very hard to find with a searchlight but a FLIR system would pick him up quite quickly.

The rapid advance of this technology means that it’s now affordable for many civilian uses. Nowadays you can even rent a hand-held system from Home Depot to help to see how well your home is insulated. This summer FLIR will be releasing the FLIR ONE which clips onto the back of an iPhone.

The FLIR Corporation has agreed to lend and install a high-end system on the research vessel Odyssey for our proposed summer expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. With this technology we should be able to track whales on the surface after they go acoustically quiet, even in the middle of the night. In addition, we would be able to see the many dangerous marine obstacles in the Gulf like oil rigs and commercial vessels. We are very excited to have another window into the world of whales and a corporate partner like FLIR supporting us with this work.