GEOMAR Explores the Sea Floor with ToolsOnAir

e2349b5a-e6c7-49e5-bb30-65f6aeeb66ffKiel, Germany – December 2016… Robots are increasingly ubiquitous on land. They’re on the sea floor, as well, assisting scientists from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and sending video and sensor data to the interdisciplinary institute’s ship-based researchers. But ingesting, synchronizing, and managing all that video was problematic until GEOMAR’s technical team introduced ToolsOnAir’s just:in network-based video-ingest solution.

“We have two robotic remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs,” notes GEOMAR Media Technology Engineer Hannes Huusmann, who joined the research institute 10 years ago and pilots the ROVs, in addition to his many technical responsibilities. “We have a small ROV with one HD camera and several SD cameras. The larger one, ROV KIEL 6000, can dive down to 6,000 meters and has two HD cameras and two SD cameras, plus some non-recorded cameras for orientation. The two robots are connected to the surface ship with fiber optic cable and act like the scientists’ eyes and hands in the deep sea.”

Thousands of meters below the surface, using a mix of LED, halogen, and HMI lights, the ROVs explore the sea floor, and HD footage is transmitted via the fiber optic cables to the surface unit, where the ROV team records the video using ToolsOnAir’s just:in. “We use just:in to ingest into Apple Final Cut Pro, where we edit it for color correction and cutting. We use Telestream’s Episode to convert and encode the video for some purposes.”

ToolsOnAir’s just:in is a network-based workflow solution adopted by broadcast video professionals worldwide to streamline and automate single and multi-camera ingest. Before discovering just:in, GEOMAR’s ROV team simply recorded incoming video to a Mac Pro with Final Cut Pro video editing software, using Final Cut’s direct recording function. “We always had problems with that method, though,” he recalls. “It’s very important to get timecode into the video material because we have sensors on the ship and on the robot that have to be synched to the video footage. That was an issue before we used just:in. Now it’s easy.”

c8bccc60-f21d-4d04-a46e-0c4ede19f50dFile size was another issue with the old way of working. “We were recording HD video on demand, so if we saw something interesting, we hit the Record button for a few minutes, then stopped the recording. But we wanted to record continuously, and we didn’t want to have to think about the recording process because we have a lot to do just controlling the robot. We wanted to just hit a big red Record button and then forget about it. If we recorded continuously with Final Cut, however, we would have eight hours of HD video in one file, which would be too large to handle. We just can’t do that.”

ToolsOnAir’s just:in elegantly resolved the file size issue. “We press just:in’s Record button and can forget it for the rest of the dive,” Huusmann reports. “The software cuts our data into manageable 20 minute files with timecode. And I really like the way the software handles file naming. I set it to use the date, the time, and some custom fields, and after the dive, all files are in good order, numbered, and with the correct filename.”

It’s extremely important to Huusmann that the system is easy to use. “One of the things I really like with ToolsOnAir’s software is that it’s very easy to work with both for the administrator and the end user,” he asserts. “As administrator, I prepare presets in advance, then I and the other pilots can choose between them when preparing the ROV for the next dive, or even change the settings for special issues during the dive. It’s almost impossible to do anything wrong.

Overall, Huusmann is very happy with the ToolsOnAir just:in solution. “We have the big red Record button, presets for the video specifications, and presets for storage targets. We can start recording and forget about the recording process, and our video is ready to edit when we finish the dive. Taking a multiple camera feed straight into the Mac Pro, running just:in, and gathering and naming the files is much easier and more reliable now. From there, we can do anything we want with the video.”

What’s next for Huusmann and the GEOMAR ROV team? “Our ROV KIEL 6000 is on the way to Auckland, New Zealand, and we’ll go on cruise in the middle of January,” he reveals. “From there, we’ll continue our research, with the help of ToolsOnAir just:in.”