Open Source Underwater Robots for Exploration and Education

OpenROV Image

The goal of the project is to democratize exploration by allowing anyone to explore and study underwater environments.

OpenROV is a community-driven R&D project aiming to make underwater robotic exploration accessible to almost anyone.  A team of robotics enthusiasts from San Francisco developed an “observation class” remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that can be built and operated for a tiny fraction of the cost of commercial ROV’s.  The team is led by NASA researcher Eric Stackpole and David Lang, a writer for MAKE Magazine and supported by 1100+ contributors from over 50 countries around the world.  Observation class ROV's can send digital images and other collected data back to the surface in real time.

Open Design

Commercially available comparable systems typically costs between $8,000 and $200,000, limiting their use to a few wealthy universities and large companies. All OpenROV designs, including robot hardware and software are completely open and freely available to the general public. The project leverages enthusiasm of the global community of volunteer supporters and developers to rapidly refine and advance the system capabilities. On a broader scale, OpenROV creators are both contributing to and benefiting from the growing global community of open-source researchers and developers.

It costs $485.27 to buy all components comprising the OpenROV system, and a pre-packaged standard kit can be purchased for $750.  Its features include a customizable payload module allowing to use various sensors – such as pH and temperature monitors – cameras, and robotic arms.  OpenROV uses an ultra-thin tether that gives the robot exceptional agility and can be easily repaired or replaced.  OpenROV collaborators are developing technology that will eventually give the robot Internet connectivity, allowing its users to control it from anywhere in the world.

Cost of building and indefinitely owning a couple of OpenROVs compares favorably with those of using commercial diver servises for just a few hours, whereas the risks of sending a diver to 100m are by far greater than those of loosing an OpenROV.

Growing Community

OpenROV community consists of more than 1100 members of the from over 50 countries around the world who contribute their expertise, time, skills to the advancement of this platform. The community keeps growing as more individuals and organizations realize the potential of this new open approach to research, exploration, and technology innovation.  Multiple educational and professional applications can be envisioned for this system.  Its small size enables exploration of cracks, crevices, and shipwrecks for much longer periods of time than would be possible for human divers, allowing OpenROV enthusiasts to concentrate on observations and data collection, as opposed to life support systems.

OpenROV developers are sending prototypes to several marine and ocean research organizations in the U.S. for field testing. “The ability to receive feedback from a number of experienced marine technology users and developers will accelerate the crowd-driven innovation,” Lang said.

The OpenROV community aims to utilize off-the-shelf components in their evolving system design. For example, the OpenROV currently utilizes small, inexpensive propeller motors typically used in radio-controlled hobby aircraft. They will continue to adapt motors for underwater use and optimize the shape of their propeller blades for use under water.

OpenROV will be a continuously evolving project; the design and functionality of the robotic platform will continue to be refined. A list of the OpenROV’s parts is available at

Coverage around the Web:

New York Times
Tim O'Reilly on Google+
2012 Best of What's New - Popular Science
David Lang is named TED2013 Fellow
OpenROV goes to Antarctica