Thursday, November 2, 2017

Telepresence


"You should wear your helmet!" S exclaimed.
"And make sure your lunch box is in view!" returned L.
I set the timer on my camera, pressed, the button, and stepped back. Click! The shutter closed.

It was lunchtime in the lab, and S had a VW bus lunchbox. L had brought her Halloween costume, a golden helmet meant to mimic early-era SCUBA gear, to work. The three of us were crowded around her laptop, watching the live feed from an ROV dive thousands of miles away. Because we're cool like that.

The ROV live feed is from a research expedition that two other lab members are currently on. They're exploring hydrothermal vent habitats in the Gulf of California, and the cruise uses telepresence to engage other scientists and the broader community.

It was fascinating to watch the video. The ROV was circling a pinnacle covered in tube worms - a big, bushy clump of white tubes. At the bottom of the pinnacle, zoanthids, little colonial anemones, covered the rocks. The science party on the ship was collecting water samples and measuring the temperature of the vent fluids to try and determine why the species were distributed as they were.

The scientists on board wear headsets during ROV dives, so their voices were audible along with the video feed. We enjoyed listening to them describe what the ROV was doing and answering questions sent in by the public. Every once in a while, a familiar voice would emerge.

It was the perfect lunch break! Telepresence really is a powerful tool for making science accessible, and I recommend you check it out for yourself: https://nautiluslive.org/

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