Marcus Shirley (left) with Professor Kerry Howell (right)

A Plymouth University researcher and a local entrepreneur are launching a new high definition deep sea camera system for the global research market. Deep sea biologist Dr Kerry Howell and business-owner of Mr ROV, Marcus Shirley, have created an underwater video camera system that is cheaper, more portable and more durable than other models, while capturing equally high quality images.

Later this year they will test their device on board one of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Councils (NERC) vessels, RRS James Cook, as part of Dr Howell’s on-going deep-sea research programme. Once the testing is complete, they will market the camera to other research institutions.

The device does not need expensive and fragile fibre optic cables like other underwater systems. Instead, it can produce high quality images from depths of up to 3,000m, just by plugging into the copper cabling system that already exists on most research vessels. It is the latest development from the collaboration between Dr Howell, who is based at Plymouth University’s School of Biological and Marine Sciences, and Mr Shirley. Their earlier prototype model enabled the University to participate in a major European research project looking at deep-sea coral mounds and the creatures that live on them.

The development of the device was initially funded by the University, with stage two funded by NERC. The pair have been advised on the commercial potential of their device by the Marine Innovation Centre (MARIC), which was set up with support from the European Regional Development Fund. Based at the University, MARIC works with inventors, entrepreneurs, new and existing marine businesses, helping them access expertise, facilities, networks and funding. MARIC aims to make the South West’s marine and maritime businesses globally competitive.

Dr Kerry Howell said:

“The kit we’re developing with Marcus is enabling us to get involved in collaborative research projects that wouldn’t have previously been possible. The new camera is very portable and can withstand being used in rugged environments, which is exactly what deep sea scientists need. We’re confident that it will not only help us to grow our underwater biology research, but will also be attractive to scientists across the world.”
In addition to his work with Plymouth University, Marcus Shirley creates bespoke underwater electronic devices for a number of other high profile organisations, including the BBC, National Marine Aquarium, Sea Life, San Diego State University and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. A Plymouth University photography graduate, he also works as a freelance helicopter cameraman.

Marcus said:

“My ongoing relationship with Plymouth University has been invaluable in getting Mr ROV off the ground. Plymouth is a brilliant place to run a marine business–there’s no way I could do this work anywhere else. I’m right in the middle of where I need to be and having the University on my doorstep is crucial.”
Mr ROV is one of a growing number of South West marine businesses to benefit from working with MARIC through GAIN (the Growth, Acceleration and Investment Network), which connects Plymouth University with businesses.

Ian McFadzen, Marine Commercialisation Director of MARIC said:

“Marcus is extremely creative, and his ingenuity and flexible working practices are essential attributes for a start-up; especially one at the cutting edge of technology development. As our Universities play a crucial role in the research and application of emerging technologies, so do the innovative micro-SMEs that feed in and work with us on the cyclical journey of development, trial and re-design. Mr ROV has actively engaged; investing in projects and sharing risk. Leading to growth in experience and expertise and therein making an impact to the research base and industry supply chain.”
Head of GAIN at Plymouth University, Adrian Dawson said:
“This is a fantastic collaboration that is furthering our research activity and delivering a great result to a local business. The combination of Marcus’ technical skills and the University’s research expertise and business support has enabled real innovation.”