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The health of the world’s oceans is rapidly degrading, but how can we protect what we can’t see? San Francisco nonprofit, The Hydrous, is tackling this challenge head-on, and in doing so, they’re opening up access to the hidden treasures of the world’s oceans to all.

The team is combining its passion for protecting our world’s oceans with its expertise in marine biology and science education to increase awareness of pressing environmental issues like climate change and plastic pollution. The Hydrous is using innovative technology such as virtual reality, drones, and 3D printing, on board expeditions across the globe to share the ocean with the world – using real and virtual immersive experiences to foster emotional connections with amazing marine environments; learning more about the issues facing them.

A diver using scientific protocol to monitor the health of coral reefs
A diver using scientific protocol to monitor the health of coral reefs
Launched in 2014, The Hydrous has mapped coral reefs in Hawaii, Easter Island, Palau, Guam, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Belize – and last month the team set sail on the vessel Theia with a group of scientists, divers, filmmakers, and technologists from around the world to explore the islands of the Maldives alongside local marine stewards.

Throughout the expedition, the team conducted scientific monitoring projects that involved sampling for microplastics in the water and sand and measuring coral mortality following a large-scale coral bleaching event. The team also created 3D models using photogrammetry – measuring and examining coral colonies and entire islands using photography and drone footage in conjunction with Autodesk’s ReMake software – as well as collected virtual reality footage (the first to be done in the Maldives).

Capturing the Reef

To capture, process, and then share this VR footage and its 3D models with the world, The Hydrous team requires some of the most powerful technology in the world. For the best possible results, the nonprofit’s designers look to Lenovo’s ThinkStation P510 and ThinkPad P50 – running Intel Xeon processors – to ensure its Autodesk and Adobe suites run without delay.

Video highlighting the 3D modeling process of a coral from water to digital. More videos here
Throughout the Maldives expedition, the team relied specifically on the ThinkPad P50 to manage the Hydrous’ photography and videography, as well as back up these dense files multiple times a day, from various pieces of equipment, without having to worry about compatibility or processing time.

The team also relied on the P50 above the water – using it to enhance the lecture and workshop experience, render 3D models, track GPS coordinates, and review virtual reality footage after dives; all while being portable to travel with and carry in the field. Now that the expedition is complete, the team plans to use this powerful and reliable technology to bring their findings to audiences across the globe.

CEO Dr. Erika Woolsey
CEO Dr. Erika Woolsey
“Lenovo Workstations are incredible machines that allow us to run high-end virtual reality content, paired with HTC Vive,” said Dr. Erika Woolsey, co-founder and CEO of The Hydrous. “Right now, high-end VR is only accessible to those with high end computing power. Lenovo’s powerful workstations enable us to achieve a whole new level of storytelling and immersion with VR, putting us on the cutting edge of this new medium.”

Beyond the Reef

Though a priority of the trip was to dive in and use this technology to explore the ocean surrounding the islands, the team left their diving gear to spend some time above sea level to learn about local issues – such as sea level rise, waste management, and coral reef protection– from Maldivian community leaders and council members. The team also led several seminars covering topics like underwater photography, photogrammetry, coral reef monitoring, and the effects of pollution on coral reefs.

Erika using the ThinkPad P50 aboard the Theia during the most recent Hydrous expedition to the Maldives
Erika using the ThinkPad P50 aboard the Theia during the most recent Hydrous expedition to the Maldives
“The 3D models we created and the footage we collected will find their way to classrooms and help educate young children studying the oceans for the first time through virtual reality.”

Using the footage and data collected during the expedition, The Hydrous plans to provide curated content to supplement science curriculums for schools and educators. Other plans include contributing data to long-term monitoring projects, as well as partnering with museums to host interactive exhibits with VR content accompanied by soundscapes and physical 3D coral models.

“The 3D models we created and the footage we collected will find their way to classrooms and help educate young children studying the oceans for the first time through virtual reality,” Hydrous team member and diver Kiran Punnilathil said in a recent blog post – a must read that covers all the aspects and adventure of what The Hydrous took on in the Maldives.

How The Hydrous Brings An Ocean to More

1. Section of reef scanned
1. Section of reef scanned
2. Scan imported to ReMake
2. Scan imported to ReMake
3. 3D mesh optimized
3. 3D mesh optimized
4. Reef section 3d printed
4. Reef section 3d printed

Lenovo partnered with The Hydrous last year through its ThinkRevolution program, which allowed the nonprofit to not only tell its stories to a broader audience, but also access to the technology they need to create innovations that are revolutionizing its industry.

To learn more about The Hydrous’ upcoming expeditions and projects, visit https://www.thinkworkstations.com/tr-story/thehydrous/.

Maldives 2016 Expedition participant Kiran Punnilathil
Maldives 2016 Expedition participant Kiran Punnilathil
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