In the early days of ocean exploration, the extent to which humans were able to explore was limited by the capabilities of their seafaring vessels. Underwater vehicles enabled exploration into greater depths, though usually at great cost and peril.
Technological advances have made these vehicles drastically safer to operate and manage, but their fundamental designs have remained relatively unchanged until fairly recently.
These days, underwater drones—or remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROV)—are taking much of the cost and risk out of ocean exploration. Many of these vehicles can be operated autonomously or remotely, and like their aerial counterparts—even offer first person view (FPV) operations.
And now, even hobbyists can get in on the action—even if it’s just at the local pond or lake. The following are the top 9 underwater drones for exploring the world’s oceans, from DIY kits to ROVs that ship ready for the water.
The GNOM is a multi-purpose ROV with several modifications geared specifically for underwater survey operations. Check out the datasheet.
The OpenROV’s v2.8 kit is widely lauded for its ruggedness, sporting a thick acrylic body that houses an HD camera for streaming live video to your laptop. On-board lights and lasers make it an ideal ROV for exploring uncharted waters.
This affordable Raspberry Pi ROV project is powered by a tiny Raspberry Pi microcomputer. It was created by Niels Affourti after watching a National Geographic documentary about the salvage of the Costa Concordia.
Featuring a unique, hydrodynamically offset thruster design, this underwater drone is capable of quick, agile movements and fast underwater acceleration. The Trident is currently available for pre-order directly from OpenROV.com.
The RB Micro-50 is ideal for working in shallow waters with little current. Though more on the recreational side, the ROV can certainly work for professional applications. Low (safe) cable voltage and fewer expansion options distinguish it from more advanced ROVs.
Controlled via a supplied iOS or desktop app, the HydroView is capable of streaming/recording live video and capturing still photos in high definition—making it ideal for underwater photography and videography.
This entry level ROV is capable of streaming a live video feed from an on-board submerged robotic camera. It contains the three basic components of a typical ROV system: a submersible, tether, and a top-side control unit.
The Starfish underwater drone is capable of grappling and retrieving objects from lake, river and ocean floors. Sheertech is currently producing the Starfish underwater drone (it completed a successfuly Kickstarter campaign late last year), and production-ready units should be available soon.
Thunder Tiger is a well-known R/C vehicle manufacturer—clearly, its experience in the consumer/hobbyist space has translated over to its ROV offering: the SEAWOLF. The ROV can be equipped with a HD camera for taking still photos and videos, as well as live streaming video for FPV piloting.
In short, ocean exploration is no longer relegated to Jacque Cousteau-types and deep pocketed explorers. Like their cousins in the sky, ROVs are redefining exploration and photography, allowing average consumers to venture into previously inaccessible or remote areas.