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Explore Shipwrecks and Cruise Past Sharks With Your Own Underwater Drone

From sperm whale battle scars to meet-and-greets with living feather dusters, some truly incredible things lie beneath the waves – thanks to remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), scientists are able to discover them. But what if you could be the explorer? What if you could take your own underwater drone out for a day of filming? Well, now you can, with the OpenROV Trident.

Created by co-founders Eric Stackpole and David Lang, OpenROV has come a long way since its inception in 2012. “We were working out of Eric’s garage at the time,” says Lang. “Building the original prototype to explore a cave in Northern California with rumors of lost treasure. We never found the gold, but we received messages from people all over the world who wanted to help us and improve the robot.”

Flash forward and the Trident is packed with some amazing innovations. For starters, it’s small, sleek, and really fast. Perhaps cooler still, the design remains completely open source, and comes plug-and-play for the average Joe.

“A huge community of ocean stakeholders, coders, and hardware hackers has grown around the platform,” explains deep-sea ecologist Dr. Andrew David Thaler, who has worked as a science advisor to the team. Connect the bot to an Oculus Rift for FPV flying, or build an attachment to carry your GoPro for a second angle – the mod possibilities are completely up to you. “This gives us tremendous flexibility and allows us to develop new, cool tools for marine research [as well],” he says.

Coders, hackers, 3D printing … how easy is this thing to use, really? The team assures us that anyone can operate the tech. “Trident is ready to fly out of the box,” says Thaler. “There’s nothing to install, you just connect to your robot through Google Chrome and everything you need is right there.” You can even pilot it with an Xbox or Playstation controller.

ROV-gif-1-20151029Source: Annalee Newitz/Gizmodo

Even the 2.8 model, which comes as a DIY kit, was built and deployed by middle school students without any trouble. “One of my favorite recent trips was up to Lake George in upstate New York,” recalls Thaler. “It’s one of the clearest lakes in the country and gets deep – almost 100 meters. Afterwards one of the grandparents came up to me and said that she had been living on the lake for 50 years and, because she didn’t know how to swim, had never seen what it looked like underwater until that day. I usually talk a lot about how great these robots are for research and conservation efforts, but the really poetic thing about OpenROV is that it can profoundly change the way that people interact with the aquatic world.”

There are also huge applications for disaster relief, as the Trident can reach places too deep, polluted, or hazardous to send human divers. Imagine in the wake of a hurricane or oil spill, being able to send a fleet of ROVs out to assess the damage?  And all at a fraction of the cost of traditional vehicles.

ROV-gif2-2015-10-29Source: Annalee Newitz/Gizmodo, OpenROV

Be you a photographer, tech enthusiast, shipwreck diver, or simply someone who wants to document your aquatic adventures, there’s still one day to back the project and get roving.

“The ocean is huge, so the more eyes in the water the better,” adds Thaler. “Even though the robot can only dive to 100 meters, that still covers a huge chunk of the ocean that is almost completely unexplored. Now you can not only explore the oceans, but also share that experience with the world.”

Follow along with the community expeditions over at OpenExplorer, check out more photos of the Trident in the gallery below.



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