Affordable Mini-Sub for Underwater Research
I’ve written about min-subs here before, including the types of high-end submersibles that took James Cameron to the bottom of the ocean and even whale- and shark-shaped subs that amateurs can use to freak out swimmers. So how about a super-tiny, low-cost min-sub that could change underwater exploration?
That’s what NASA engineer Eric Stackpole has come up with. His toy-sized mini sub, the OpenROV, is an open-source, remotely operated vehicle that is currently being used to map underwater caves in 3D using Autodesk software.
Although it can currently only go as deep as 100 meters, the fact that it is made from low-cost, readily available parts and can link to a standard laptop make it the perfect tool for researchers without the budget to launch traditional submersible research tools. In effect, the low-cost sub can “democratize” underwater exploration, and allow “globally-connected citizen scientists to share their data and findings,” according to the OpenRV website.
By the end of the summer, the OpenROV team plans to make kids available on Kickstarter for $750, including all the plastic parts and electronics to build one. The parts include water-proofed motors and propellers used in remote controlled planes, as well as commonly available LED lights and an off-the-shelf webcam. Controls and video pass through twisted copper wires that unspool as the robotic sub reaches lower depths.
The OpenRV can be used at depths where divers can’t stay for long periods of time, and is small enough to fit into tight spaces where humans would have trouble gaining access. NASA may use the unit for its NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations project (NEEMO) for testing robotic tooling in extreme conditions at its underwater research base in the Florida Keys.
You can see a video of the sub in action in Hall City Cave below:
Source: New York Times