Open Source Underwater Robots!

Robotics Science
Open Source Underwater Robots!

OpenROV’s Eric Stackpole: Open Source Underwater Robots! from Maker Faire on

I got a chance to meet Eric Stackpole of OpenROV at Maker Faire Bay Area this year and interview him briefly during our live streaming camera coverage of the fair. Talking to Eric is a bit like grabbing hold of a bare electrical wire. He’s so full of energy that you find you just cannot let go. He’s also on the cover of the current issue of MAKE.

Eric’s presentation at the Maker Faire main stage was energetic and inspiring. He founded OpenROV to help put science in the hands of anyone curious enough to want it. “It shouldn’t take a research grant to do exploration,” he says, “it should take curiosity.”

The OpenROV Kit
The OpenROV Kit

OpenROV is an open source underwater platform that can be built with off-the-shelf parts. Most ROVs cost tens of thousands of dollars. OpenROV can be built for well under $1,000, which can help “democratize” exploration so that anyone can do it. This is a tool you can do real science with, and can withstand pressures at up to 100 feet below the surface.

“You can build it in a week if you are an adult,” Eric likes to say, “and if you are a kid maybe it will only take you a weekend.”

Eric explains how they “cleverly mis-use” off the shelf parts to achieve their low cost goals.

  • Uses a cheap home plug adapter (used for Ethernet over power lines) to get 200 Mbit/sec communications over inexpensive copper wire for the ROV’s tether.
  • $10 Brushless RC motors are insulated instead of using expensive thrusters.
  • HD video is provided with a simple USB webcam.

The open source nature of their project has really driven innovation. “Everyone is smarter than anyone,” says Eric. Their website’s forums allow anyone to contribute to the development of the ROV. You can buy this as a kit or source the parts yourself and build it… today.

Can an inexpensive open source ROV really do exploration? The OpenROV has been used around the Aquarius Reef Base, an underwater habitat owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It has probed into the Hall City Cave in California and under the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. So yes, this is real.

Hear more about it in Eric’s own words by watching the video above.

6 thoughts on “Open Source Underwater Robots!

  1. Sandy Roberts says:

    I would love to build one of these to check out the local river where we release our fish for the Trout in the Classroom project. That would blow the kids’ minds!

  2. Maria G. says:

    I’ve heard about Eric already from a “techy” friend but I never really get to understand what he is up to with this OpenROV thing until I watched this video. It’s amazing how a product of technology like this could actually exist. I guess we’re advancing already because of people like Eric.

    1. Andrew Terranova says:

      Glad you enjoyed the video. Eric makes underwater exploration accessible in a way that Jacques Cousteau never could. He doesn’t just invite you along to watch, but encourages you to go out and make your own discoveries.

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Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and author of How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Andrew is also an electronics and robotics enthusiast and has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children's Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Enrichment in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.

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