Sunday, 1 July 2012

OpenROV Project

I found this link today via the blog at Southern Fried Science and I've been geeking out about it for a large chunk of the afternoon as a result. I very much want to have a tiny homemade ROV in my life! ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) are essentially extremely versatile underwater robots which are used in virtually every aspect of underwater exploration. Depending on the size of the ROV, they can be used at all ocean depths and may have manipulator arms and other sensors to allow them to carry out precision tasks at depth without any of the risks associated with sending a human being down (either a diver or in a submarine) to do the work directly. At their most basic, ROVs consist of a housing containing electronics and a camera (so the operators can see where they're going), a tether cable (to link the ROV back up to the control computers on the boat), and motors (so the ROV can actually move around). Unfortunately, as useful as these machines are for conducting surveys, they are generally extremely expensive but that's where the OpenROV project comes in.

The OpenROV project. Image from openrov.com  (Photo Credit: Sam Kelly)   

The idea behind OpenROV is to create an open-source ROV which can be built and used by anyone for a relatively low price, but which is good enough to provide useful scientific data. The design they have at the moment is relatively untested, but apparently has a theoretical depth rating of 100m and has enough space to carry a range of extra sensors and cameras depending on what you want to use it for, so it looks like it could be pretty flexible. The designs and software are freely available on their website right now so if you have access to a workshop and a computer you can go and make one today if you wanted to and because it's open source, it's also supported by a worldwide online community who are able to contribute to the development of the project in a very real way, with software coding and testing the different builds. In my view, this kind of project is what the internet is brilliant at - bringing people together from all around the planet to work on an idea and then sharing it for free. Also, if you support it on kickstarter you can get a Jacques Cousteau-style red beanie!

This is one project I'll be keeping an eye on to see how it turns out. As someone with extremely limited abilities on the electronics side of things I'll be interested to see how this works once it's fully tested and ready-built models start becoming available - it could be a very cool piece of kit.