The Future of Underwater Robotics

The Future of Underwater Robotics
Enhanced underwater imaging is fundamentally shifting the way that operators interact with their unmanned vehicles. (Image credit: VideoRay)

VideoRay recently acquired Blue Ring Imaging, a St. Petersburg, Florida-based innovator known for its 3D visualization, multi-view perception and simulation technologies for unmanned systems.

With Blue Ring products, like OctoView™ cutting-edge mixed reality software and the OctoCAM™ multi-view 360-degree underwater camera, VideoRay is now focused on improving the situational awareness of its vehicles, helping them to navigate more autonomously and in many cases, eliminate the need for experienced operators.

This fundamentally shifts the way that operators will interact with their unmanned vehicles in the future. And these technologies align perfectly with VideoRay’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of underwater operations with man-portable robots and fostering effective collaboration between humans and machines.

Today, not only does VideoRay have the chance to provide a best-in-class operator experience for our existing ocean robotics customers, but we can also expand our offerings to benefit other unmanned systems.

The recent acquisition and how it supports ongoing innovation in the development of autonomously operated underwater robots.


Blue Ring Imaging was the brainchild of Casey Sapp, who today serves as Vice President of Strategy and Emerging Technologies at VideoRay. Casey helped invent some of the first 360-degree underwater camera systems—some of which were used in Hollywood—and asserted himself as an expert in underwater perception. Casey came from a growth software background but, in transitioning into the 360/Virtual Reality industry, quickly recognized that there were more pressing hardware issues to solve before tackling any software requirements.

It was the lack of any underwater 360 camera systems that drove Casey to explore the commercial viability of Virtual Reality solutions. In 2019, Blue Ring Imaging moved from entertainment to military applications and started focusing on problems associated with situational awareness and human-machine teaming for unmanned systems and fleets.

In particular, there was a huge opportunity to improve the efficiency of the handoff process between unmanned systems and humans.

Blue Ring Imaging’s initial business premise was that, like the autonomous driving industry, unmanned systems need more sensors and perception capabilities than what was available to become fully autonomous. Secondarily, display preferences were changing, switching from mobile and tablet displays to mixed and augmented reality headsets in the next 5–10 years. These headsets are the future of visualization and control for unmanned systems.

The challenges that concern human-machine teaming relate to sensor latency from the machine to the human and getting large quantities of data—such as 3D video, point clouds, and augmented reality markers—to human eyes as quickly as possible. That was the challenge that Blue Ring Imaging set out to overcome by developing a prototype with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, an oceanographic research center in Moss Landing, California.

This prototype had a multi-view 3D camera that was streamed through a headset. The goal was to determine if this display could help ROV operators to complete tasks more efficiently. The answer was a resounding yes, on average halving the time needed to execute the tasks at hand.


Working under existing Navy contracts, it wasn’t long until VideoRay and Blue Ring crossed paths. It was immediately clear to the team at VideoRay that Blue Ring’s camera technology was cutting-edge and pairing it with our ROV product line would provide our client’s with a distinct underwater advantage as it allows users to experience what the robot senses. When you wear a headset, you feel like a part of the robot because you have depth perception, 1:1 scale, and even what is called multimodal interaction, which is the use of haptics, eye tracking, voice, and sound for vehicle navigation and control.

The camera technology is also being optimized for close-range manipulator work, enabling the ability to see 3D depths at close ranges where manipulators do most of their work. As this technology develops, it will simplify complex underwater tasks and help users understand the environments in which they work. This will help them perform their jobs with more efficiency, safety, and at a lower cost.

There’s an overlap between VideoRay and Blue Ring’s customer bases, which makes the acquisition such a great fit. We share customers, problem sets, and vehicles. We also share applications, including exploration, inspection, mine disposal, and defense.

Bringing Blue Ring into the VideoRay family has also expanded our physical footprint, incorporating Blue Ring’s Florida location alongside our Pennsylvania-based locations and our San Diego office. Our new St. Petersburg office is close to MacDill Air Force Base, where the special forces run their Middle Eastern and South American operations, so there’s immense military acumen in the area and access to defense events and conferences.


We’re already integrating Blue Ring technology into our research and development projects with the US Navy and other customers. We expect the first product from the merger to be a smart camera for our Mission Specialist systems, which we plan to release early next year.

Aspects of Blue Ring technology will be part of every system that VideoRay sells. We’ll also sell components of Blue Ring technology separately so users can add it to their existing systems. For example, headsets are helpful when used with manipulator arms, so we’ll likely pair these products together. We also plan to offer payloads specific to customers and use cases as an additional upgrade.

This story was originally featured in ON&T Special Edition 2023. Click here to read more.


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