“We’re actually legitimately building the world’s largest ocean observation platform on a shoestring…”
Styling themselves as citizen scientists, two young engineers, Eric Stackpole and David Lang, have created OpenROV, a small start-up based in Berkeley, Calif., that builds submarine drone kits. They hope to create a mirror image of the airborne drone craze.
This month, the OpenROV researchers took over a vacation home here [Lake Tahoe] and turned it into a command center for the maiden dive of a prototype of the next version of their Trident submarine. The sub explored the wreck of the Tahoe, a turn-of-the-last-century steamer that now lies less than a half-mile offshore in depths up to almost 500 feet below the surface of Lake Tahoe, which divides California and Nevada.
In keeping with the citizen-science aspirations, the dives were broadcast live over social media platforms like Facebook and Twitch. Trailed by a thin power and networking cable, the sub glided over the length of the wreck, beaming high-resolution video back to a command center, where it was displayed on a large computer monitor in a room overlooking the lake.
OpenROV has sold more than 3,000 of a first-generation submarine, which is able to navigate below the surface, connected by a thin cable and controlled by software running on a tablet or smartphone. The new Trident, which will go on sale this fall for $1,499, will travel at speeds of almost four knots underwater and will have a high-resolution camera and a lighting system as bright as car headlights. It will operate from a wirelessly connected buoy.
The goal of the explorers is to have “a lot more eyes in the ocean,” said Mr. Lang, who worked for a start-up firm before co-founding OpenROV in 2012 with a Kickstarter campaign.
David McKinnie, a senior adviser at the atmospheric administration’s Ocean Explorer program, met the two engineers several years ago. Last year he invited them to make a presentation at an event for ocean explorers that the administration sponsored.
“They were by and far the hit of the show,” he said. “People were captivated by the potential of citizen exploration.”
The OpenROV researchers now manage a nonprofit website, OpenExplorer, to encourage their community of drone submarine explorers to share the results of their adventures.
For as much sky as there is to fly in, there is more ocean. These guys have a great idea. You can imagine the appeal in seaside communities, the Great Lakes and other locations where there are wrecks, caves and ruins to explore – plus of course flora and fauna to observe.
It’s not that this is a new idea. It’s that at $1,499 – the price of a DJI or a 3DR – it makes the world beneath the surface as accessible as the sky.