Looking for sites and organizations for amateur underwater vehicles?
February 23, 2013 10:06 PM   Subscribe

Quadcopters are cool and everything, but I find exploring the ocean a way more interesting proposition. I want to start making autonomous underwater vehicles. Are there forums for people who are doing this? I've googlebinged for sites and people that are into this, but no dice. It seems like everyone involved is a closed academic research project, or a government body. Basically looking for a forum of people to discuss ideas with.
posted by hanoixan to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Rather, amateur autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles.
posted by hanoixan at 10:07 PM on February 23, 2013

OpenROV is a good place to start. Most are working on remotely operated submersibles, but there are people working on autonomous operation.

It's a bit trickier than aircraft navigation. You are much more limited by the kinds of sensors that are useful under water, and when something goes wrong you often have no idea what happened, just that the little guy didn't come back. (This can also make it a rather expensive hobby.)
posted by Ookseer at 10:54 PM on February 23, 2013

sensors can be quite a bit pricier underwater as well. For a senior design project in college i worked on an auv project, but we blew our budget refurbing a sonar sensor (not even buying a new one).

I would follow what AUVSI is doing for autonomous underwater vehicle competitions. Cornell has some info on their entries/advice for new people: cornell auvsi/onr
posted by TheAdamist at 12:09 AM on February 24, 2013

Hi, I build AUVs for a living. There aren't a lot of amateur AUV kits or competitions the way there are for ROVs (tethered, remotely-operated vehicles). Perhaps you mean ROVs, in which case, look at the MATE competition, the SeaPerch, and the teams associated with those, and keep an eye out for anything else run by AUVSI and ONR. But most of these are being done as teams, not as individuals -- because you can't really buy an off-the-shelf piece of hardware and hack it the way you can a quadrotor, you have to have a team, with one or two people focused on building and another person or two focused on making it behave in certain ways. SeaPerch may be an exception to that -- it's designed for schoolkids so a semi-educated adult who can build and program can probably manage it themselves without too much trouble. On the more advanced side, you can see whether anyone at Heriot-Watt University is publicly discussing their work with ROS for underwater vehicles. At any rate, most of the competitions should have forums for the people involved to talk about what they're using and doing. SeaPerch example.

Subsea sensors are expensive. Subsea pressure housings are expensive. Waterproof connectors and cables are expensive. If you want to go deeper than a few meters, you'd better have some hefty cash. (A VideoRay ROV, which fits in a shoebox and is considered a very low-end commercial ROV, costs upwards of $30k.)

A couple cheap suggestions for shallow-rated stuff: get a waterproof GoPro for some fun video, avoid expensive pressure tolerance by just pressure balancing and filling electronics housings with mineral oil (messy if you have to drain it, but it works), and learn to create a waterproof cable pass-through.

Perhaps you might want to start with unmanned service vessels (USVs) first, and look at SailBot or RoboBoat. Get your feet wet, so to speak, when you can not worry about pressure tolerance or GPS-denied navigation or expensive sensors. A GoPro on a USV could be a fun project to start with.

Exploring the ocean is definitely interesting. Designing for subsea operation, including the lack of GPS, the lack of high-speed comms (if you don't have a tether), and so on is REALLY damn cool from a pure nerd standpoint. You can get just as many interesting 3D-space controls problems with an AUV/ROV as you can with a quadroter. Actually, check out my company's HAUV -- it's basically an underwater quadrotor with similar control challenges. It's an awesome vehicle.

But if it really is just the ocean science you're interested in, look at some of the open data initiatives like Liquid Robotics did with their PacX challenge last year -- their autonomous glider collected a ton of scientific data and they have released it for anyone to look at an analyze for their own scientific interests. They have a really good blog about dealing with the data and answer a lot of questions for people.

If you have specific questions please let me know and feel free to MeMail me. And if you decide you want to go beyond the amateur level, move to Boston and come work for us.

By the way, I might add UUV, AUV, and ROV to your tags. All three are commonly used in the industry, and anyone searching for this sort of information on Metafilter may use one of those terms.
posted by olinerd at 2:09 AM on February 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

Argh just realized after missing the edit window USV = unmanned SURFACE, not service, vessel. It's too early.
posted by olinerd at 3:00 AM on February 24, 2013

The MATE competitions are great, and I know some of the organizers. Memail me if you would like some anecdata.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:04 AM on February 24, 2013

Also, if you want to actually do this for a living, and get very wonderful training, Long Beach City College seems to blow the MATE competition out of the water quite regularly. So look into their website.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:33 AM on February 24, 2013

Thanks everyone for your input.
posted by hanoixan at 6:25 AM on February 25, 2013

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