We all have heard the stories of secret islands and sunken treasures. We have all grown up wondering about the vastness of oceans and the secrets lie underneath them. To be more specific, growing up to be an ocean explorer or a sailor was a childhood dream for most of us.
Thanks to the blistering growth of technology, especially in last decade, all our dreams of exploring the murky depth of ocean have come true. We can now see what lies beneath the waves, discover relics of ancient civilization, observe marine creatures living deep down under or even capture underwater footage for filmmaking.
From a childhood dream to a reality in the present time, this breakneck transformation would not have been possible without the consumerization of Unnamed Underwater Vehicles (UUV) or to be more specific, underwater drones. The reason we are using the word ‘consumerization’ in lieu of ‘invention’ is that UUVs have been around for quite some time but it was not before the last decade that it hit the mainstream market to become available for the use of general consumers.
The invention of underwater drone dates back to the 1950’s by the US Navy to carry out specific missions such as retrieval of military equipment and wreckage of sunken ships. The most famous cases of such retrieval include the discovery of the Titanic under the North Atlantic Ocean and the retrieval of a nuclear bomb off the coast of Spain.
What Exactly is an Underwater Drone?
Now, some of you might want to know the definition of an underwater drone. An underwater drone is a subcategory under the drones which is submersible, waterproof and most importantly, is operable without any people inside. Unlike the drones we see flying above us in the air, underwater drones are usually not operated by remote controls. They can be autonomous (AUV) if there is an onboard sensor attached or can be tethered usually with a set of long cables for a direct connection between the source of control and the drone. For the later case, the unmanned underwater drone is called a Remotely Operated Drone (ROV). The reason underwater drones typically don’t come with a remote control is due the fact that it is more difficult to transfer signals through water than air.
How Do Underwater Drones Work
As we mentioned earlier, underwater drones have two major types; ROVs & AUVs. ROVs are tethered unmanned underwater drones which are tethered with a series of cables that establishes a connection between the control source & the drone. All ROVs have built-in sensors that allow them to detect & adjust light underwater; a floatation pack & a thruster to achieve & maintain precise motion & control even in high-current waters, and a tether management system (TMS) to adjust the length of the tether so the underwater effect of cable drag can be minimized. An underwater drone works mainly by controlling its buoyancy so that it doesn’t sink.
In addition to that, many modern-day ROVs feature sonars, magnetometers, water samplers & even 3D cameras to perform various functions such as measuring water clarity, water density, sound velocity & overall, rendering an improved perception of underwater scenario to the pilot.
AUV’s on the other hand, operates independently without any external intervention. They don’t have be tethered to a larger vessel in order to be controlled under water, which results in enhanced mobility & freedom.
What are Underwater Drones Used For
Underwater drones can be used to serve a range of military, commercial & scientific needs. Modern underwater drones are specifically designed to perform varying underwater operations. Here are some good examples of the usage of underwater drones.
Offshore Energy Drilling
Offshore oil & gas industries around the world are heavily dependent on underwater drones, especially ROVs for their underwater operations such as deep-sea exploration, drilling, building under water infrastructures & maintenance work. Nowadays, ROVs have evolved to become faster & more capable of operating under greater depths, carrying bulkier cameras, more sensitive sonar & having more manipulative arms for handling larger loads.
Underwater Infrastructure Survey
Routine inspection & repair of underwater infrastructures is a very laborious & often difficult task. Infrastructures like bridges & dams often act as homes for gas & energy utilities. Routine inspection & maintenance of such utilities is crucial to the delivery of service. Divers can now use ROVs & AUVs to take care of these underwater infrastructures as theses drones are safer & more accurate option for data recording & damage repairing.
Underwater Search and Recovery Mission
If you are a regular user of the internet, it is almost certain that you’ve come across the news of the disappearance of Malaysian Airline Flight-370. The sensational news of its mysterious disappearance has been around for quite some times but did you know that the search mission for the missing flight was carried out by using an AUV under the Indian ocean? And we have mentioned about the Titanic too!
Yes, Underwater Drones, especially AUVs in this case, is very reliable & effective to carry out search & recovery missions underwater. Thanks to its autonomous control system, AUV can reach to the furthest & the remotest corners underwater& cover a wide seabed area at a very high resolution.
Perfect Tool for Environment Enthusiasts
If you have a zeal for undersea exploration but you are not particularly fond of swimming side by side with the whales & dolphins, UUVs might just be the perfect device for you. Underwater drones will let you have a glimpse of beautiful, blue aquatic life without ever venturing into the water by yourself. All you have to do is buy a commercial underwater drone & you’re all set to explore the exciting marine life under the sea.
From finding shipwrecks and ancient artifacts to monitoring the daily activities of a big a blue whale, it’s all presented visually before your eyes & you don’t even have to leave your operation deck for once!
Underwater Photography and Film Making
Underwater drones have professional hobbyists’ applications too! If you have a good eye for photography, you can use ROV’s to capture beautiful image under the sea surface. If you think simply driving them around in the water for exploration purpose only is to mainstream, you can also make underwater videos for entertainment purpose. Now a days, UUVs are also widely used for film making purposes by professional & amateur film makers alike.
How Deep Can Underwater Drone Go
ROVs and AUVs vary in range. Most of the ROVs have a depth rating of 500 meters to 2000 meters. However, one particular ROV named ‘Kaiko’ built by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology can go as deep as 11000 meters below the water surface. It was the second of only five vessels ever reach to the bottom of the Challenger Deep.
On the Other hand, AUVs usually have a depth rating of 1000 to 3000 meters, while only a few AUVs can reach up to 6000 meters below the sea level.
Commercial underwater drones which are generally used for recreational diving & regular exploration purposes usually come with a depth range varying between 15 meters to 305 meters.
How Long Can a ROV Stay Underwater?
Unless there is a technical malfunction, there is usually no limit on how long your ROV can stay underwater. But if you’re still confused about it, let’s put it this way; your average dive with an ROV on an average will last around eight hours. If you’re still not sure what it means, just know that a dive in a human occupied vehicle usually lasts for five hours!
Benefits and Limits
Underwater Drones can work at varying water depths. They can be used to carry out activities which is difficult for human divers to perform. Underwater exploration, surveys & inspection are often associated with a certain degree of various risk factors for human divers. These operations can be performed b using ROVs & AUVs depending on the criticality of the operation & accessibility of the location underwater.
Offshore drilling for energy resource & underwater infrastructure building is strenuous & involves potential risk for human divers. ROV & AUVs can be deployed to carry out such operations because they are usually more durable, can be equipped with multiple tools at once& can carry higher payloads than humans. Underwater drones have been proved to be more effective in hazard control & minimizing environmental damage.
Just like every coin has two sides, underwater drones have their fare share of limitations too. Since the ROVs are operated through tethered connection, their maneuverability & range is limited underwater. They are much slower in performing specific operations than their human counterparts. Using ROVs will also cost higher than using human divers in such operations.
On the other hand, AUV may well be an option for you to go for when your work requires you to access to a remote location at a distance, supplying energy for the drone to do that will be an issue to consider for you.
Best Underwater Drones
With two dimmable 450 lumen headlights, this wireless remote control underwater drone will let you instantly conquer the crushing darkness under the sea. It is equipped with a 4K/12-megapixel camera which is more than capable of capturing stunning underwaterimageries. It can reach down to 30 meters below the water at a speed of 4 knots.
YouCan Robot BW Space Pro 4K
This particular ROV is particularly designed to serve hunger of the photography enthusiasts. Equipped with a 4K camera with a 6x zoom lens & AI object tracking. Wired remote to wireless surface control will give you an extra edge with a speed of 3 Knots. And the maximum depth it can reach is 100 meter down the ocean.
Geneinno Titan ROV
With four propulsion thrusters & two froward moving thrusters, Geneinno Titan ROV is one of the best examples of professional functionality and consumer-friendly design. Underwater exploration can be made 2x easier with its 160-degree field of view which is further bolstered by 120 degree up/down tilt. This impressive ROV comes with a blistering speed of 13 knots & can reach down to 150 meters below the water.
Youcan BW-Space Pro
The Youcan BW-Space Pro is equipped with a camera with a 130° wide-angle lens able to capture 4K videos and 12 MP photos. Its 4-thruster system allows it to move vertically while increasing its stability underwater. It is able to dive to 100 m and its battery can last up to 5 hours.
Qysea Fifish V6
This one is a professional underwater drone with an exceptional UHD camera (4K). This drone offers 1080p live video streaming, 8X slow motion mode and a large 166° field of view with powerful 4000-lumen lighting.
Even more interesting is the fact that its six thrusters that provide it with 6 degrees of freedom in movement, meaning that it can go in more directions than just forwards and backwards.
Underwater Drone Cost and Where to Buy
Commercial Underwater drones usually cost between $500 to $10,000 depending on their specifications. You can buy commercial underwater drones both online offline. E-commerce sites such as Amazon and Alibaba have good collections of commercial ROV & AUVs for sale. You can also buy them from your nearest tech shops at a very reasonable price. But before you decide to buy one, be sure to check out its specifications and if possible, maybe read some online reviews from people who have used it before.