Your personal $849 underwater ‘drone’

It’s equipped with a video camera to stream back images

CNN News Wire | 11/6/2013, 5:14 p.m.
A new submersible robot — sort of an underwater drone — could open up undersea exploration. The OpenROV, invented by Eric Stackpole and David Lang, can be controlled remotely with a laptop.

“Live every week like it’s Shark Week.” Those immortal words come not from the Discovery Channel’s marketing department but from Tracy Morgan on “30 Rock.”

Believe it or not, there once was a time when there was no Shark Week. It wasn’t until famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau’s 1956 documentary, “The Silent World,” that people began to see what the world under the sea was really like.

“Jacques Cousteau changed the way ocean exploration was done,” said Eric Stackpole, who along with partner David Lang is behind a submersible robotic watercraft — sort of an underwater drone — that could open a whole new world of undersea exploration.

Cousteau “invited people to explore along with him, and so for us it’s the same thing,” said Lang.

Their invention, called an OpenROV, is a submarine-like robot that you control with your laptop. It gives scientists, explorers and other users a glimpse of what lies below the surface, without them getting wet.

“R-O-V stands for remotely operated vehicle” Stackpole said. “It’s got a video camera on it, so you can see what it sees live. So I can put this in the water, fly it around and see what it sees.”

The OpenROV is about the size of a toaster and is engineered to go to depths of up to 100 meters.

Underwater ROVs have been used for research for years. But the biggest difference between the OpenROV and the one, say, James Cameron uses, is the price.

The OpenROV sells for $849. It’s not what everyone would call cheap, but you don’t need a grant to get your hands on one. This affordability is how Stackpole and Lang hope to bring OpenROV to the masses, turning average people into Cousteau-like undersea adventurers.

“If you think about ocean exploration right now, it’s something that a lot of people think, ‘Oh, well, you know, what that’s something that professional scientists do, that National Geographic explorers do. That’s not something that I get to do,’ “ Lang said, “I think that’s what we’re trying to instill back in everyone.”

The two met when Stackpole was interning with NASA and Lang was between jobs, and both immediately bonded over the idea of a new way to explore the ocean.

“When we first met almost three years ago ... within 10 minutes Eric told me a story about this underwater cave,” Lang said. “Within a half an hour we were talking about, ‘Well, what if we could build an underwater robot that could go and roam the ocean and anyone could go on and control it from the Internet?”

The project started in their garage in Cupertino, California — home to some other famous tech innovators: Apple. But once they turned to Kickstarter last year, they saw how many people were truly interested in taking the plunge.

“We set a goal for $20,000 and ended up raising that in about two hours, which is really exciting,” Lang said. “It’s fun to watch the kind of dollar amounts go up, but then you quickly realize, ‘Oh my God, we have to build all these things.’ “