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BENTHOS CAMERAS BRING THE DEEP INTO VIEW Author: Elizabeth Pennisi
(The Scientist, Vol:5, #3, pg. 10, February 4, 1991) (Copyright, The Scientist, Inc.)
-------- Few people passing through Woods Hole, Mass., can avoid seeing the products of Sam Raymond's entrepreneurship. Looking like oversized volleyballs, his yellow buoys brighten docks behind Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Tourists who visit the WHOI exhibits are awed by images of the Titanic in its graveyard on the ocean floor-- images from the cameras developed by Benthos Inc., Raymond's 27- year-old company based a few miles away in North Falmouth.
A mechanical engineer by training, Raymond started Benthos after having spent three years as the salesman for EG&G Marine Instruments Inc., where he worked closely with WHOI scientists who used EG&G's underwater cameras. At first he was just a consultant; then WHOI asked him to make a device that recorded the depth of a plankton net as it was towed underwater. He improved on the crude prototype that a WHOI biologist had developed, and wound up selling a thousand such devices to marine biologist all over the United States.
"Throughout my career, a very important factor has been serendipity," Raymond says. "You could, through association with oceanographers, find these little gems and turn them into products for production," he explains. Benthos now employs 78 people and generates $9 million in annual revenues.
Another time, a geologist wanted Benthos to make a better boomerang corer, a device that dives to the ocean bed, takes a sample, and returns to the surface. Raymond didn't like the existing technology, which used gasoline-filled cylinders to buoy the corer back to the surface. So he began testing ways to make glass floats.
Eventually Raymond figured out how to seal two glass hemispheres. Then he realized this ball would make a great housing for instruments and a long-lasting buoy. "We took over the glass [float] business in the world," he says about Benthos' biggest product.
Benthos also makes underwater cameras and, more recently, has developed remote underwater vehicles to carry these cameras. With help from RCA, Raymond made the first deep-ocean color TV camera. And he often teams up with the National Geographic staff in their quest to photograph the ocean, providing better lighting and wide- angle lenses for their underwater adventures. "So many of their [WHOI's] discoveries, such as the hot vents off the Galapagos Islands, were photographed with our cameras," Raymond says.
Raymond remembers fondly his early years at Benthos, working out of a barn on his property. "Those were creative, demanding days," he says. But when the company celebrated its silver anniversary in 1988, it did so in its own building, complete with masterhead jutting from the roof and portholes for windows.
Among those people associated with WHOI who have built up multimillion-dollar businesses, Raymond is something of an exception in retaining control of the enterprise. At the age of 52, he says, "I love Benthos, and I want to see it remain independent."