Microsoft is counting fish near its undersea datacenter using AI

Laurent Giret

Microsoft’s Project Natick made headlines in recent months with the company deploying a full-fledged data center in the North Sea. The ambitious project leverages AI to monitor Project Natick’s various equipment, but Microsoft is revealing today that the same AI is also being used to study the datacenter’s underwater environment.

Two cameras connected to the undersea datacenter are able currently being used to monitor aquatic life in real time, and you can even check the live feed on the Project Natick home page. Microsoft has created an object detection model to count all the fish passing in front of the cameras.

From the video stream, we observed that there are only a few types of aquatic life that come within view—fish, arrow worms, and rays,” the company explained on the Azure blog. “The limited number of animal categories allows us to choose a relatively light-weight object detection model which can be run on CPUs.”

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Microsoft’s object detection model can count the number of marine creatures in each frame.

For Microsoft, Project Natick is all about understanding the possibilities of deploying undersea datacenters worldwide, and with all the current talk about global/ocean warming, it’s still not clear if such a project actually makes sense. “Monitoring the environmental impact is an important topic, and AI can help make this process more scalable and automated,” the company said, without further detailing if the heat output of its undersea datacenter actually has an impact on its submarine environment.