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A submarine without its periscope? Researchers from Israel’s Technion are developing an underwater photography and surveillance system that might make periscopes obsolete * Meet the Stella Maris.

Prof. Yoav Schechner and researcher Marina Alterman during a system test. Photo: Technion Spokesperson's Office
Prof. Yoav Schechner and researcher Marina Alterman during a system test. Photo: Technion Spokesperson’s Office

Close to a hundred years and always the same process: Submarine commanders who wanted to see what was happening on the surface raised their periscope with the “up scope” command, or lowered it with “down scope.”

That’s about to change. In the future submarine commanders will be able to monitor the surface from the depths without relying on periscopes. A team of Israeli researchers from the Technion’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering will present their new system at a scientific conference taking place in Santa Clara, Calfornia: A system that allows an underwater vehicle to see above the surface without a physical periscope – using a virtual periscope instead. The system is still under development, but the idea is sound and has already been successfully tested. The new virtual periscope system is called “Stella Maris,” the star of the sea.

“Divers have been using periscopes for a hundred years now,” said Prof. Yoav Schechner, along with the two doctorate students Marina Alterman and Yochai Savirski. “The periscope’s downside is the fact that it gets exposed once it rises above the water surface.” The alternative system developed by the scientists includes a fully submerged camera and a special sensor, used to create a virtual periscope and avoid exposure.

iHLS – Israel Homeland Security


The main technical challenge was image distortion due to wave activity. In order to solve this problem the researchers founed a solution used by astronomers, a mechanism that reduces image distortion, and applied it to naval systems. This mechanism, a refracted imaging sensor, includes a thin metal sheet with precise, laser-cut holes that measure sunlight refraction, used to correct distortions in images taken by the new underwater system.

Technion researchers have already tested the system along the Haifa shores, taking pictures of team members from below the surface without using a physical periscope. Lab test results were also satisfactory. Prof. Schechner explained that “there’s still a lot to do before periscopes vanish entirely, but our work continues.”

The periscope will also have some civilian uses, such as tracking and taking pictures of birds at sea. The system, from its position on the bottom of the sea, will be able to track birds in flight, while plummeting towards the water and during their stay under the surface.