Balloons are taking to the sky off the shores of several Cape Cod beaches, and they aren’t just for show.
The balloons are ALTA SmartBalloons, large, white balloons that resemble oversized beach balls and use high-definition cameras to monitor scenes on the ground. Or in this case, in the sea.
The creator of the technology, an aerospace company called Altametry, is testing the ability of the balloons to spot sharks in order to prevent attacks, according to Altametry founder and chief executive John Ciampa.
Four balloons are being tested on Cape Cod over the course of five days as part of a $10,000 project to determine the optimal ways to fly the balloons and operate the cameras.
The tests started Monday at Nauset Beach and moved up the coast to Newcomb Hollow Beach on Tuesday.
In the past, drones and spotter planes have been used to monitor the seas for sharks, but Ciampa said the SmartBalloons would be far more effective. For instance, the balloons can stay in the air for weeks at a time, providing live, constant surveillance of large portions of the ocean to their operators, who can control the balloons from more than a mile away.
Ciampa said if a balloon is monitoring one mile of a beach at a wide angle, it can also zoom in to one seal in the water, which is what the cameras have been doing on the Cape Cod beaches.
“If we can see a seal under water, we’ll be able to see a shark,” Ciampa said. This is a much more precise way to spot sharks, Ciampa said. Instead of waiting for planes to fly overhead and guessing where a shark will appear, the balloons can follow a shark and track its location while streaming live video footage to public safety officials waiting to alert lifeguards.
In addition to using the cameras to prevent shark attacks, Altametry hopes to use them to provide entertainment by streaming live footage of sharks and other sea creatures to YouTube.
“We believe that millions of eyes will enjoy watching the water,” Ciampa said. The five scientists from Altametry expected to run into trouble on Cape Cod. Ciampa said he and his team were unsure how the balloons would fare in strong ocean breezes, but were pleasantly surprised when the cameras held steady in Monday’s 17-mile-per-hour winds.
“We’re very excited,” Ciampa said. “We had no idea that the balloons would be stable in beach winds.”