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L-R QuadrantHQ Industrial Designer Aran Pudney, SnapIT CEO Chris Rodley, SnapIT Sales and Partnership Manager Jared Liebezeit, Trident Systems Programmes Manager Oliver Wilson, and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise General Manager David Downs at the NZ HiTech Awards.

L-R: SnapIT General Manager Andrew Rodley, Trident Systems FishEye Project Manager Darren Guard SnapIT Chief Executive Officer Chris Rodley.

Snapping up success on ships

Monday 20 July 2015

That is how CEO Chris Rodley described the origins of SnapIT, whose new technology could revolutionise boat monitoring systems and provide a cost-effective alternative to on-board observers in several fisheries. Back then he couldn't have guessed how far the company would come.

The Nelson-based company develops cameras that capture a 360 degree hemispherical recording, but the real wonder lies in the ability to later pan and zoom in on individual moments of that recording. SnapIT's first foray into the seafood sector began with the snapper longline fleet's concerns over accidental black petrel capture. The fleet needed a method of tracking incidents, but on-board observers are often impractical on small vessels where trips are weather dependent.

A meeting was called in Auckland in 2011 to find a camera that could monitor the dynamic environment on deck while withstanding the rigors of filming at sea. Then Sanford managing director Eric Barratt invited SnapIT along after seeing their cameras used in construction projects on Auckland's waterfront. The company was chosen over several competitors, including well-established Canadian company Archipelago Marine Research.

Originally developed for use on land, a prototype on-board camera was developed with funding from Trident Systems and Seafood Innovations Ltd, a research partnership between industry, government and Plant and Food Research. SnapIT worked alongside Trident to adapt the cameras, which involved waterproofing, better power management, 1TB storage capacity, adding GPS, cellular and satellite communication and enabling Wi-Fi connectivity so data could be uploaded to servers without the need to transport hard drives. The original mechanical hard drive also had to be replaced with a solid-state equivalent.

Rodley said the cameras quickly had to develop very thick skins.

"It's a very different environment to the side of a hotel in terms of robustness. We made assumptions and they had to be changed many times. We went from an aluminium enclosure, to plastic, to sea-grade aluminium, to 316 stainless steel."

Changes also saw the original 25 watt camera reduced to 1.7 watt. Despite the mechanical modifications, Rodley said it was the software side of things that presented the biggest and most exciting challenge.

"We never sell a camera and walk away... We're a software company that sells cameras, not a camera company that sells software."

He said dealing with the wealth of data the cameras produce presents one of the biggest challenges. "When you have video footage going 24 hours a day from a number of boats you end up with large amounts of data - we're talking terabytes, even petabytes of data."

In order to save observers time trawling through hours of footage, Rodley said his team is developing video analytics to identify clips of interest. These might draw on GPS coordinates, time of day, how the vessel physically moved in the video, when a port call was made, or any number of other elements that indicated relevant footage.

"It's kind of interesting for a group of geeks to be presented with these problems - I mean we are involved in solving issues to do with the sustainability of the world's fishing grounds, a real world problem." Rodley said.

The team had quickly grown from three to nine, and Rodley said they were looking for more people. Initial testing of the new and improved cameras began in Timaru in November 2012 on three ships, looking for incidents of Hector's dolphin capture in set net fisheries. The technology performed well, and a second project was undertaken in 2014 aboard six snapper trawlers. Bolstered by fresh funding from Callaghan Innovation, the camera unit has been shrunk from 40cm in length to just 5cm.

Trident chief executive David Middleton said this was a massive advantage when finding appropriate positions for the camera on small fishing vessels. The smaller unit is to be trialled where the concept originally began - monitoring black petrel capture in the snapper longline fleet in a project funded by Southern Seabird Solutions. Middleton said future applications of the cameras could be many and varied, ranging from data gathering for fisheries management, through to safety or general compliance observations by vessel owners.

Middleton said there was even interest from overseas parties including trials in the surface longline fisheries of Fiji. SnapIT won the Most Innovative Agritech Product Award at the NZ HiTech Awards 2015, also coming highly commended in the Hi-Tech Hardware Product category, and won the People's Choice Award in the New Zealand Innovators Awards 2014 and was a finalist in the Agricultural category.

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