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.
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.

There are over 500 OpenROVs in use now around the globe. Even though the project is growing, Stackpole and Lang are sticking with their do-it-yourself ethos.

The OpenROVs are an open-source project, meaning that anyone can hack them to create new features or uses for the devices. Lang and Stackpole sell the ROVs as kits, and customers put them together themselves.

It’s a process that helps get everyone involved in the production and design aspect.

“We have people from well over 50 countries in our community who can all contribute to how to make the design better and how to use it better,” Stackpole said.

Among those interested in OpenROVs are conservation groups who want to check on invasive fish species and teachers who want to use them in the classroom, Lang said.

Building a community of users to provide input is another way the OpenROV is unique. It also explains the first half of the name.

“OpenROV is an open-source community,” Stackpole said. “If the ROV is having some sort of a problem and we can’t figure out how to handle it, I can go onto the forums and post, ‘Hey, this is a problem I’m having,’ and as I sleep, the problem is going across Europe and people who are experts are answering it because they find it interesting.

“By the time I wake up, it’s going to cross the U.S., and by lunch I can have five or six good solutions.”

With a flow of new ideas coming in from all over the world, Stackpole and Lang have decided not to get a patent for the OpenROV — at least not yet. This makes it easier for them to upgrade with new tech and designs.

“For us, we want to innovate as quickly as possible. We want to come up with new designs and revolutionize how underwater exploration is done rather than committing to one design,” said Stackpole. “We’ve been designing the ROV around parts that are not even in existence yet, but that we know are emerging.”

As the OpenROV evolves and improves, this approach may allow for more exploration in uncharted waters.

“People often ask, ‘Is it something that’s just kind of a toy that’s fun to build and play with, or is it something that you expect to be used by real researchers?’ And our answer certainly is, ‘both,’ “ Stackpole said.

Jacques Cousteau would certainly be proud.

Ryan Bergeron | CNN