Underwater Drones For Sale: 'Roam The Ocean' For Less Than $1,000

By Ben Wolford on November 11, 2013 3:07 PM EST

Two inventors in California have created an affordable underwater drone that can be controlled from your laptop.
Two inventors in California have created an affordable underwater drone that can be controlled from your laptop.

It used to be that only the top scientists with deep pockets and film crews could go on a deep-sea expedition. But two inventors in Cupertino, Calif., have set out to change that with a new underwater drone.

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At $849, it's priced low enough that anybody who really wants one can probably scrounge up the money for it. And so far, about 500 people have purchased the device, called OpenROV, around the world, CNN reported.

CNN says it's the size of a toaster. The New York Times says it's the size of a lunchbox. It weighs about 5.5 pounds, and using little plastic motors it can crawl down to a depth of about 82 feet. The developers say they're trying to test it down past 300 feet. It's pretty simple: users assemble it themselves, drop it into the water, and control it remotely from a web browser. Observers say it could change the face of underwater exploration.

"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,'" said David Lang, who developed it along with Eric Stackpole, a NASA engineer.

Stackpole first put the idea to the test in 2012, according to the Times, when he explored an underwater cave in Trinity County, Calif. Since then, it's been a fairly large success. They've managed to raise the retail price by $100 since the Times wrote about it.

"The goal," the duo writes on the Kickstarter page that made the project possible, "to inspire and enable everyone to become a DIY ocean explorer." That Kickstarter project set out to raise $20,000. In a month, it raised $111,622.

The personal drone industry has been expanding in recent years. Unmanned aerial vehicles were the prominent tech feature of this year's Burning Man festival. One flying drone company, 3D Robotics, told the New York Times in March that it sells as many drones each quarter as the military owns and operates in total. And local law enforcement agencies are beginning to use drones to apprehend criminals. But as flying robots take off everywhere, the OpenROV drone seems to be leading the way in affordable, personal underwater drones.

They call it "ROV" for Remotely Operated Vehicle. They call it "open" because its software is open-sourced, meaning anyone can tinker with its brains and look for ways to improve it or fix it. And although it's marketed as an Average-Joe version of Alvin, it's actually perhaps best suited for techies or geeks or handymen. According to the Kickstarter page, there's "soldering, gluing and wiring of electronics" involved.

To get a sense of how good the camera is (and how slow this little guy swims) watch the video below.

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