SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- A local aeronautics firm called SciFly, LLC is changing the way we see the ocean with cutting-edge camera technology.
It could be a game changer for search and rescue operations, and scientific surveys; and it's being developed right here in San Diego.
The core technology behind SciFly is a cluster of camera lenses mounted on an airplane, which can filter out specific colors and even see below the surface of the water.
"There is a suite of five cameras that is able to look at very narrow wave lengths of light and different colors," said pilot Eddie Kisfaludy, CEO of SciFly based out of Montgomery Field.
Kisfaludy took News 8 on a demonstration flight over the San Diego coastline.
"Today, we're looking for whales. The way that works is it looks for a specific color and ignores the rest of the ocean," said Kisfaludy, while flying the SciFly plane.
The cameras stream live video to a laptop, allowing the SciFly system operator to quickly spot a pod of gray whales below.
The sophisticated filters make it effortless to spot the whales swimming below the surface.
"This system is like putting on polarized sunglasses but times ten," said Kisfaludy. "We're able to look really deep through the water with a series of cameras, and filters and software."
The cameras also pick out a group of dolphins and track their every move.
The software pinpoints the animals on the surface and below the water, then automatically identifies them in a matter of seconds.
And it's not just marine mammals that SciFly can find.
"We can find people, we can find a lost ship wreck, and an aircraft that has crashed, all using a system that's automated," said Kisfaludy.
Typical search and rescue planes fly below 1,000 feet, while spotters scan the ocean with the naked eye. The operations are time-consuming -- when precious minutes and hours count -- while looking for a person or a crash site at sea.
The SciFly plane flies at 5,000 feet and is able to cover a much larger area more efficiently than traditional searches.
"We can have one pilot and one system operator covering 100 square kilometers in one hour. That's a lot of ocean," said Kisfaludy.
And while the technology is still in the development stage, the future possibilities are practically endless.
"What we're trying to do is provide a camera system that sees more of the ocean a lot faster and easier and automated. It alleviates the stresses of looking with your eyes," Kisfaludy said.
SciFly technology was developed for the military, which used it to search from the air for chemicals and weapons in war zones.
The company is doing test flights weekly above San Diego to identify new applications for the device.
Some of the footage used in this video report was shot using a GoPro camera.