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by Michael Menduno and Amanda White
Since its launch in September 2017, the diminutive Cuban cigar shaped Paralenz HD video camera—an underwater camera made for divers, by divers—has captured the attention of the tech and freediving marketplaces. Rated to 820 ft/250 m, the camera offers a plethora of diver-friendly features, such as integrated depth and temperature recording, automatic depth-based color correction, depth-triggered controls and the ability to easily upload and store video and data via your smartphone. The camera is arguably to GoPro what tech diving is to recreational diving.
We caught up with some of the leadership team at Paralenz, which is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the recent Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) tradeshow in Las Vegas to get their story. Here is what they had to say.
InDepth: What was your original motivation to develop the Paralenz camera?
Jacob Dalhoff Steensen (JDS), Chief Marketing Officer, Paralenz:
The company started in 2000, and we had been doing engineering and design work developing products for companies in a variety of industries.
But then in 2015, Martin, one of our founders who is big in diving, said we should do a diving camera. We saw that there was a huge hole in the market. Underwater cameras were complicated and you could either get something cheap or something very expensive. But there was nothing made specifically for diving that really worked well. So that was our starting point.
Obviously, GoPro was around. Did any of you say, “GoPro has already got a camera for that”?
Michael Trøst (MT), co-founder and Chief Information Officer: The GoPro is not actually built for diving. It requires compromises to bring it underwater. You need a housing and have to push buttons.
JDS: The water is very cold in Denmark and divers wear thick gloves. You try and fiddle with a GoPro with gloves. You maybe do it a couple of times and then you say, “Okay, it’s not really worth it.” So our starting point was making something that actually worked easily for divers.
MT: It’s also the conditions we face in diving, the wear and tear on the equipment. Divers need rugged equipment. In addition, we wanted our camera to have specific features that were relevant to divers: depth and temperature recording, depth-activated controls, color correction, and make it easy to maintain. These things are specific to the diving industry, which needs a [purpose-built] product. You can’t easily do things like change filters or adjust the white balance with a camera in a housing. We also wanted to make it as easy as possible for a diver to record and share their dive.
How did you go about developing the camera?
JDS: Typically, we seek out the knowledge we need to make the right product. For Paralenz, we went on a lot of dive forums and made calls asking people, “If you were to buy a dive camera, what would be the most important features to base your choice on?” And they said, ease of use, simplicity, durability, battery life, photo quality. They listed out their priorities. We made our design choices accordingly.
Then we made prototypes, and talked to dive shops and divers as well and then went on Kickstarter with it. We invited people to become part of a team of testers who would basically buy into being part of the camera’s development.
We had more than 250 divers from 38 countries sign up, and we put them all in a Facebook group. So, every time we did something, we showed our testing group what we were doing and asked them what they thought.
Credit: Aron Angrimson.
How different did the camera turn out as a result of the testing group?
MT: Interestingly, all of the menus and stuff ended up being completely different from what we originally had planned. Our testers helped us with a lot of our design choices on items like sensor sizes, lenses, and stuff like that.
All together we made about 30 changes from the original production units that we sent out to the testers, to the final unit. A very simple thing was the threading width; the first thing that the testers mentioned was that the threading was extremely thin. So that’s a very tangible example of how we listened to our testers. Even the auto-record function was something that a spear fisherman mentioned to us. He asked, “Is there a way to avoid the surface recordings so it will only start recording once I am underwater?” So you can now use a pressure sensor to turn on the camera at a pre-specified depth.
JDS: We tested our first production runs as well. We built over 100 cameras and gave them to half of the testers and they used them and gave us feedback. We then made changes they suggested and built a second batch for the remaining testers.
So how long did all that take?
MT: It took us about eight or nine months of developing, testing, and feedback. That was 2016. We started production in February 2017, and opened up our webshop in September of that year.
Our approach also had other benefits. We focused on the diving community, and in return they gave us loyalty. Our users know, okay, these guys only care about scuba diving and freediving just like we do. So, we share a love for diving from both ends. In contrast, other manufacturers, specifically the camera manufacturers if we’re talking bigger cameras, don’t really care that much about diving. That’s more the housing manufacturers. And if you’re talking smaller cameras, they’re building all-purpose cameras, so they aren’t dedicated solely to diving and therefore don’t create much loyalty. That’s one of the main things that’s really helped us.
That’s likely one of the reasons that Paralenz has such a strong buzz in the market. Was there any thinking about divers gathering underwater video data to support a bigger environmental mission?
MT: Very much so. We are passionate about the capabilities of collecting data with this camera, and we eventually hope to utilize all of our citizen scientists. In the current version [of the camera], the location is user dependent; the user has to enter it into the app. But in future versions, the camera will have a GPS in it and will log the diver’s position when they go down and again when they surface. With that we’ll be able to build a database with prescient live depth and temperature recordings from all over the world, and then generate a heat map with a depth scrollbar and basically be able to see the temperature movement and changes over time and at depth.
That’s very exciting. If you could get detailed underwater temperature data from all these places, that would be powerful.
JDS: We actually have the first prototype ready, along with the website that we’re going to launch. Divers will be able to upload the data directly from the app. It will upload the dive, save it, and export all the data to a database that’s roughly the equivalent of Google Earth, but with dive logs. That also means divers will be able to tag their logs, search for text, or search for images. For example, you could search for images of sharks at different times of the year and at various locations. You will be able to access a lot of information. In the not too distant future we might apply AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning to search for occurences of individual species and or identify patterns.
Organizations might be able to use your database and the content created by your users for research.
JDS: Absolutely. The Paralenz app definitely opens up opportunities for community engagement. Not now, but in the future, an ocean conservation organization such as [GUE’s] Project Baseline or any organization that needs information about the conditions of a certain part of say, a reef, will be able to reach out to the community through push notifications.
Let’s say an organization wants to survey the northern Great Barrier Reef. They could send a notification to any Paralenz users in that area and say, for example, “For the next month we are interested in getting footage from this area and temperature readings.” And then they will be able to gauge if it’s necessary to actually go out and do a full survey. They won’t have to engage that whole system before they actually know what the conditions are.
Currently, we are talking to Greenland shark researchers about creating a bottom camera with a trigger to capture video of the sharks feeding at 656 ft/200 m. They have very, very little video of Greenland sharks.
What will your focus be for the coming year? What are your goals?
JDS: Right now, it’s making everything streamlined and getting to market, getting into dive shops, and getting the business going.
MT: We’ll be working on firmware updates and the app, and also start working on our online platform, Paralenz World! We will keep developing that. There is also a macro lens that will be coming out this year. We’re not quite sure when this will be launched, but we are also talking about a battery pack to extend the battery time.
We are also hoping to engage teaching organizations and offering research courses; for example, a course where you actually learn how to film properly, where to film, how to package it, how to upload it to the relevant database, and stuff like this.
Have you looked at photogrammetry applications? That’s one of the areas that GUE has been focusing on for collecting data on shipwrecks and the like.
JDS: There’s a number of people helping us from the GUE community. For example, John Kendall and Richard Walker have been extremely helpful as we look at applications in 3D photogrammetry and how to help develop cameras for that. We are also looking at 360-degree camera mounts.
MT: We are very, very passionate about exploration, conservation, and education, which of course are part of GUE’s core values, as well as making great stuff!
Making great stuff for passionate people?
MT: That’s our mantra.
This is not a paid promotion for Paralenz. As a community, GUE/InDepth likes to support innovations in diving that help to improve our ability to explore and conserve the aquatic world.
A Journey Into the Unknown
Sailor, diver, and professional software implementation consultant turned adventure blogger Michael Chahley shares his quest to discover the unknowns of our world by stepping out of his comfort zone. Are you ready to take the plunge?
By Michael Chahley
The engine roars to life, launching me out of a deep slumber and into reality. “That’s not good,” I think out loud. Rocking in my bunk inside the sailboat, I realize the wind is still driving us against the ocean swell. We do not need to be using the engine right now, so why is it on? Bracing myself, I climb into the cockpit as Paul, the captain, swings us over hard to starboard while staring wide-eyed ahead into the darkness. We are on a collision course with an Indonesian fishing boat shrouded in darkness, and it’s close enough to violate the ceiling of a safety stop. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I count a handful of men staring back at us as they also take evasive action. One of them is standing at the railing brushing his teeth while we run parallel alongside one another for a moment.
Luckily for us we didn’t collide. I went back to sleep with another adventure to share. If you were to meet me today, working a full-time job in Canada alongside Lake Ontario as it freezes, it would not be obvious I spent two of the past four years traveling. Balancing a life of adventure with one of responsibility, I feel fortunate to have explored some very remote places in our world–both above and below the water. But before I was able to explore the Pacific Ocean, I first had to navigate a personal path of conflicting identities in order to find the confidence to jump into the unknown.
For my entire life, I have been more comfortable in the water than on land. My childhood memories consist of watching my parents dive under the water for hours at a time and swim in the currents of the Thousand Islands in the Great Lakes region of North America. I followed the predictable path of our society. I worked hard, achieved an engineering degree, and secured a job. Fortunately, I was able to continue exploring the outdoors with this busy life. Long weekends were spent diving in the Great Lakes or camping in the back-country. I was comfortable enough; however, there was no real satisfaction in my life. As the years ticked by, the gap between my reality and dream world grew. Something had to change, but I did not know where to find the catalyst.
Like any other armchair traveler, I idolized the explorers from the Age of Discovery. Adventure books weighed down my bookshelf while travel documentaries glowed on the TV screen in my room at night. I understood what made me happy, but I was unsure of what I stood for and believed in. I was living a life in conflict with the trajectory I wanted to be on, but I had no idea of how to become an ‘explorer’ who lived a life in pursuit of the unknown. While commuting to work each day in a crowded subway, I daydreamed of sailing the oceans and exploring the underwater world. As I grew increasingly more frustrated, one day I unloaded my concerns on a friend. They had the nerve to say I was ‘living in a dream world’ and needed to focus more on my real life. This hurt to hear at first, but then it dawned on me! If dreaming was a part of my life, then why couldn’t I make it a reality, too? This was the catalyst I needed.
I finally understood that even though others might see my dreams as frivolous, it was okay for me to follow a path that was meaningful for me. Like a weight lifted from my shoulders, I discovered it was okay to be uncomfortable with the status quo. With this in mind, I quit my job, packed a bag, and with no concrete plans, bought a one-way ticket to go halfway around the world.
One-Way Ticket To Ride
I found myself flying to the Marshall Islands with a one-way ticket to meet someone I had only communicated with over email. The customs officer did not find it amusing, but after some tactful negotiation, I was let into the country and even offered a free ride to the marina. It was 2016, and I was on my way to meet Tom, the captain of a 53-foot, steel-hull ketch named Karaka. Tom invited me to join his crew and help them sail across the Pacific. Even though blue-water sailing was new to me, for him it was a lifestyle. He was nearing the end of a 12-year circumnavigation after saving Karaka from a scrapyard in Hong Kong. Along the way, he would have crew join him as a co-operative, which is how I ended up spending eight months on his boat exploring the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea.
When not visiting uninhabited atolls, the outer communities we visited were so isolated that we were asked to help out by delivering fuel, cooking oil, and mail. During this trip, our daily routine consisted of free diving on pristine coral reefs, gathering coconuts, and sharing meals with some of the friendliest people in the world. From spearfishing with the local fishermen, exploring the shipwrecks and ruins of World War II, and partaking in long walks on the beach or up a volcano, it was a new adventure every day. As a shipwreck enthusiast, I am incredibly grateful to have had an opportunity to free dive to within sight of the HIJMS Nagato in the lagoon of Bikini Atoll and to dive on Japanese Zeros in waters of Rabaul. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself exploring these regions of the world; reality had transcended my childhood fantasies.
Just like diving is for many of us, once I started traveling, the passion grew and is now a core part of my identity. Flash-forward to earlier this year, and I am back in the capital of Papua New Guinea helping Paul and his partner repair their 34-foot sloop named Amanda-Trabanthea for a journey out of the country and into Indonesia. Adventurers themselves, they had just returned to their boat after sailing through the Northwest Passage. Over three months we managed to visit some of the most hospitable and isolated regions of Papua New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia. I was lucky enough to go diving in Port Moresby, the Banda Islands, Wakatobi, Komodo, Lombok, and Bali. By the time we survived the near-collision with a fishing boat, I had come to expect the unexpected and cherish the exciting moments in life.
Explore The Unknown
Diving and sailing share a lot of similarities. Both are perfect for getting off the well-beaten track to explore places of our world few have ever seen. We must be confident in our abilities and have the appropriate training to safely handle the unexpected. A strong technical understanding of the physics and equipment required to operate safely is very important. Meticulous planning is essential for completing long passages and technical dives. But most importantly, it is the adventure from exploring new places that makes it so fun and gives us reasons to continue doing this. I strongly believe that communities such as GUE play a pivotal role in society by encouraging and promoting exploration within the individual. With time, I will combine my passion for both diving and sailing to help discover some of the most remote and beautiful corners of our world. If you have never sailed before, I highly recommend it.
I am back in Toronto where this journey began. I’m working full-time; however, this time with a much more solid understanding of myself and as well as a greater appreciation of the world we share. Only by stepping outside of my comfort zone to explore our world I was able to overcome the uncertainty that kept me from living an authentic life. Author Dale Dauten put it succinctly, “Success is an act of exploration. That means the first thing you have to find is the unknown. Learning is searching; anything else is just waiting.’’
During my travels, I realized that we cannot let others define us. We must reach beyond personal boundaries, take a risk, and venture into the unknown. In doing so, we become explorers in our own reality, which is the only reality that matters. So, rather than daydream about future adventures, we need to believe we can incorporate those dreams into our lives. All we have to do is to dare to take that first step into the unknown.
Michael Chahley is a professional software implementation consultant and an industrial engineering graduate from the University of Toronto. A finalist for GUE’s 2019 NextGEN Scholarship, he is a passionate diver, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, and an experienced traveller. Founder of the online blog Nothing Unknown.com, Michael is on a quest to discover the unknowns of our world and share them with you. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and can be reached at @NUDiscover on social media or his email email@example.com.
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