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DiRAMa Facilitates Data Gathering and Analysis at Sea

By David Scaradozzi • Laura Sorbi • Francesco Zoppini

The principal components of DiRAMa.

The study of submarine environments is affecting a growing audience in the fields of science, technology and entertainment. Archaeologists are always interested in documenting and cataloging underwater sites, while biologists aim at monitoring and sampling water and biological parameters. In addition, recreational activities, such as scuba diving and snorkeling, demand instruments that are more efficient in order to obtain data to share with others who are passionate about the sea. These activities have not been invasive, but difficulties increase as the depths of activity increase. Moreover, such kinds of users are sometimes not familiar with complex technologies and robotic systems, or they are not able to sustain the costs of underwater data-gathering systems.

DiRAMa is a new data-gathering system for marine environments. The project won the Working Capital 2012, Telecom Italia S.p.A. (Milan, Italy) initiative aimed at rewarding the most promising ideas in the field of research. The device will make image and data acquisition at sea easier by utilizing smartphones, tablets and smart cameras and letting the user upload all the information on an appropriate Web server as soon as an Internet connection is available. Users can launch 3D reconstruction processes, which use uploaded photos and other materials, while the Web server sends a notification via the mobile device to inform interested parties of updated status. The innovative system has proven to be effective.

DiRAMa Principal Features
The DiRAMa system includes different kinds of sensors, while remaining low-cost and small. It integrates heterogeneous information coming from the marine environment, using commercial-off-the-shelf components. The final output, created by the mobile device and the relative software, can be thought of as a multidimensional, multilevel postcard of the explored area.

Photos captured during a mission can integrate additional levels of environmental information, such as location coordinates, temperature, pressure and pH measurements, which are gathered by the mobile device at the time of shooting. Some of the information is obtained by onboard sensors; other data can be accessed by the capability of specific boards to interface with external hardware over a variety of commonly used protocols (i.e., IOIO for Android). These boards are small enough to be easily housed in an underwater smartphone case. Data gathered by the mobile device are collected in a database managed by a solid and well-organized server technology that is able to process and return results to external users. DiRAMa provides the user with greater data processing, particularly of images, and 3D reconstruction algorithms at the server level. A 3D model of a marine area enables in-depth research. Overall, the system comprises the mobile device of the end user, and the management and processing architecture created to support it.

Global Architecture
DiRAMa's system architecture can be represented schematically by single blocks interconnected with lines, which characterize the information exchange. Each block is analyzed in connection with the other blocks.

Mobile Acquisition Device (Android Board). This block is basically composed of a camera, other sensors and a microcontroller. This structure can be conceptualized in the form of an Android smartphone. Some sensors are already present within this structure; others are accessible using a specific board connected through Wi-Fi and housed in an underwater case. Once on the surface, as soon as an Internet connection is available, the device becomes a sort of virtual buoy, sending data just collected to a server created for DiRAMa. To this aim, smartphones, tablets and smart cameras equipped with Android OS have been identified as suitable technology, principally because they include intelligence, a camera and several sensors. Moreover, Android OS is open source and able to run on different devices. An interface has been created that involved developing an appropriate application able to acquire images, while at the same time recording data from sensors and sending them to a server. Moreover, through the application, users are able to register and log in to services available on the Web. The app also allows for the display of post-processing results. To use DiRAMa underwater, the mobile device can be placed in commercial or custom underwater housings.

PHP/HTML5 Web Server. A Web server has been developed to acquire and catalog data. It manages user data registration and images sent from a DiRAMa mobile device, inserting them into the database, presenting results to the user, and showing the Web interface through which the user can view and edit data for each mission. Moreover, this block is responsible for communicating with the 3D engine module in order to start reconstruction with the user's data and receive results. A Web application has been developed using PHP server-side scripting and HTML5 markup language. To continue this article please click here.

After receiving a Ph.D. in artificial intelligent systems, David Scaradozzi worked at Indesit Co. and the Inter-University Center of Integrated Systems for Marine Environment (ISME) as a senior scientist. Since 2007, he has been an assistant professor at Universitá Politecnica delle Marche. His research activities include robotics and automation, with a special interest devoted to motion-planning and interaction control problems in distributed agents, rapid prototyping, mechatronics and home automation.

Laura Sorbi received a bachelor's degree in informatics and automation engineering in 2007 and a master's degree in industrial automation engineering in 2009, both with distinction, from Universitá Politecnica delle Marche. She received a Ph.D. in life and humanoid technologies at the Italian Institute of Technology (Genova, Italy), researching topics regarding underwater activities. She is a post-doctoral fellow at Universitá Politecnica delle Marche, working with Professor David Scaradozzi. Her research concerns marine robotics, specifically the development of vision systems for the 3D virtual reconstruction of the underwater environment.

Francesco Zoppini received a bachelor's degree in informatics and automation engineering in 2014 from Universitá Politecnica delle Marche. While preparing his thesis, he developed the Web server part of the DiRAMa project. Currently, he is a freelancer in the field of informatics and network consulting, and he continues collaborating with the laboratories of Universitá Politecnica delle Marche.

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