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Open source ROV opens the doors for inexpensive underwater exploration

By Shane Graber - Posted Jun 01, 2012 10:00 AM
Remotely operated vehicles (ROV) have significantly increased our knowledge about undersea life and NASA engineer Eric Stackpole may change things up with an open source ROV made from inexpensive, off the shelf parts.
Open source ROV opens the doors for inexpensive underwater exploration

OpenROV 2.2 is 300mm long, 200mm wide, and 150mm tall. It displaces approximately 2.5kg of water and has a theoretical depth capability of approximately 100m. Photo by Sam Kelly.

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are highly maneuverable, unmanned, underwater robots that are controlled typically through a tether that attaches the robot to a controller on the surface.  All of them carry at least a camera and lighting and many will carry additional equipment for water sampling, temperature recording, etc.

The reason that this project is so unique is that this ROV is 100% open source. The plans are freely available for download from the OpenROV website and one can build one from off the shelf parts for as little as $750.  That's huge given that the least expensive commercially available Videoray "Scout" ROV has a starting price tag of $10,000.

While that is a huge price savings, it also needs to perform - and perform it does. The Scout has a maximum working depth of 76 meters (250 feet).  OpenROV handily beats that depth by 25 meters with a maximum working depth of 100 meters (330 feet) which is well below the depth that divers can reach for an extended time.  The unit will run for 1.5 hours off of eight "C" batteries and will travel as fast as 1 meter / second.

NASA is contemplating using it at the Aquarius reef base in the Florida Keys for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations project (NEEMO project), the world's only undersea research station.  It has huge potential for exploring in tight quarters where surveys are needed before actual human divers explore the area.

Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-residence and former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, says, “I champion these guys who are coming up with low cost ways to make the ocean available to everyone, not just the rarified atmosphere of scientists and industry.” She said, “I wish they were in every hardware store in the world.”

Below are two excellent videos with more information on this project. The first one shows Eric Stackpole, the OpenROV project originator, getting ready to use the robot at Hall City Cave and the second one is an interview with Eric at the 2012 San Diego Makerfaire.

If you build one, please tell us about it!

The OpenROV sub team at Hall City Cave, getting ready to test out a prototype that will let amateur explorers look 100 meters feet down in a $750 open source machine.

Will chats with Eric from OpenROV (open source remotely operated vehicles) about underwater robots that anyone can download the designs to and build with off-the-shelf parts. The robots can be equipped with lights, servos, webcams, and then controlled with a game controller. Eric also explains how OpenROV was originally created to hunt for lost treasure. True story!

(via New York Times)

Author: Shane Graber
Location: Indiana

Shane has kept saltwater tanks for the last 12 years, is a research scientist, lives in northern Indiana, and is a proud Advanced Aquarist staffer.

Website: http://www.advancedaquarist.com/.

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