Cousteau and the undersea world. Cameron and Titanic. And now, Joe Reinhardt and Mike Fields and the depths of Lake Moraine in upstate New York. Every summer, Reinhardt and brother-in-law Fields tackle a new DIY project at the family’s lakeside camp. In 2005, the pair built their own underwater ROV (remote observation vehicle) with two video cameras feeding live images to a shipboard laptop – all for about 100 bucks Making things is second nature for Reinhardt. 24, a computer tech in digital imaging. This time, he got to indulge his underwater fascination:”I always wanted to be a marine biologist,” says Reinhardt. “I love the water, and ships, and watching Discovery Channel with the real ROVs exploring the Titanic.” Reinhardt and Fields built their homebrew ROV’s frame out of PVC pipe, and its transparent camera housing out of scrap quarter-inch-thick acrylic tube from the local plastics supply (milled to watertight tolerances on a friend’s lathe). They joined the two with simple but strong carpenter’s ratchet clamps, The B&W video camera was $29 from Harbor Freight, complete with infrared LEOs for night vision. power supply, and 80 feet of RJll cable.
They scored a Chinese color “Spy-Cam” for $1 on eBay (plus $35 shipping), and ran its video signal up the audio wire in the RJll cable. After an embarrassing misfire with ballast tanks (“We put ’em on top, so it sank upside down every time”), the explorers improvised a solution (“a big hunk of concrete and a bungee cord”) and lowered their ROV to the lake bottom to capture video of sunfish, perch, and muskie sporting in the wild. The rig proved watertight to 40 feet. This summer, they’re going deeper: their 2006 model has thrusters for true independent ROV mobility, using watertight 12VDC motors coupled to propellers by super-powerful neodymium magnets. It’ll be rated to 200 feel, good enough to dive quarries or wrecks on Lake Erie, Reinhardt says, James Cameron might want to check his rearview mirror.