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Illuminating the Deep with the Maka Niu Light Module

Announcing our newly developed light module, supported by National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA Ocean Exploration.

Light Module for Maka Niu imaging and sensing system. Photo credit Kylie Pasternak

Over the past year, we have been developing a deep-sea light module, serving as a new addition to the suite of tools within the Maka Niu imaging and sensing system. Last month, our new light module came online and debuted while on deployment with the Quinault Indian Nation. We are excited to share the details of our newest addition and hope its added functionality will continue to bring deep-sea exploration closer to the hands of communities across the globe.

The newly developed Light Module (left) is connected to the Maka Niu Camera Module (right) using a custom waveguide armature. Photo credit Jessica Sandoval.

The light module features a very similar form factor to the Maka Niu camera module (about the size of a flashlight). The preliminary work on the new lighting addition was co-ideated by our fabrications expert, Lui Kawasumi, and our undergraduate researcher in 2020/2021, Margaret Sullivan. The final light module created in 2023 can dive to 1500 m and provide illumination to the darkness of the deep sea. The module has four different light intensity modes and is programmable, all selected by the user using an intuitive rotating collar. Like all modules within the Maka Niu family, the light module does not have any cables associated with it and communicates wirelessly to the camera module. Once the light and camera are paired, you can program missions into the Maka Niu camera (such as a time series), and the light will turn on and off accordingly.

This wireless pairing and communication may seem easy in the air; however, this gets considerably more complicated underwater. The very presence of water hampers the use of wireless communication underwater. To solve this, we relied on waveguides, which use a medium connecting a source and receiver to propagate a signal and relay the commands from the camera to the light module. This newly evolving field of subsea communication has shown promise in syncing up cameras and strobe lights without the need for cables (Jang J. 2020). For the Maka Niu, the waveguide armature is a custom apparatus that connects the communication of the camera and the light modules and also assists in deployments by providing ample space for hose clamps, U-brackets, and mounting plates. The user can adjust the angle and length of the armature to fit the desired lighting needs. We strived to make the armature highly customizable to the deployment needs of the users.

This exciting step forward in underwater lighting lowers the financial barrier to entry for users looking to explore their own deep-sea backyard. The novel form of underwater communication also reduces the reliance on subsea cables, which may be expensive or require routine maintenance and servicing. Together, we anticipate that the new addition of the light module and the Maka Niu imaging and sensing system will continue to lower the technical and financial requirements on the user to execute a deep-sea mission successfully.

This work was supported by a generous grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA Ocean Exploration. The Maka Niu Light and Camera Modules are available through our lending program. For inquiries, please reach out to


Jang J. (2020) “Marine snow tracking stereo imaging system.” Master’s Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Media Arts and Sciences.

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