A low cost robot controlled via the Internet could potentially increase underwater research and engage the public on the importance of ocean conservation, according to its developers. Ben Gruber has more.
STORY: It started off as a treasure hunt. Sifting through a magazine from the 1970's, Eric Stackpole pointed out an article to David Lang. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAVID LANG, CO-FOUNDER, OPEN ROV, SAYING: "There was this story that there was a robbery and gold was thrown to the bottom of this underwater cave and all of these treasure hunters and scuba divers, no one was able to get to the bottom, so Eric had this big idea that he was going to build this underwater robot to go explore." And that is how the duo got into developing a robot to explore to a depth of 100 meters underwater. Called Trident, it's basically a waterproof smart phone with thrusters. It sends a video signal, as well as temperature, depth, and directional information to the surface in real time via a tether connected to a wireless buoy. That buoy is connected to the Internet, allowing the robot to be controlled from afar. To enhance the experience of exploring underwater, the team developed software that allows users to immerse themselves into an underwater environment via a virtual reality headset. While the robot is designed for anyone to use, Lang says it's proving popular with the science community as a low cost research tool. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAVID LANG, CO-FOUNDER, OPEN ROV, SAYING: "Ocean science and exploration is really tragically underfunded and there are all sorts of people that are stuck in this post-docalypse who are trying to get the research done with very limited budgets and so this tool has become great for them." And while their robot could give researchers insights on to how to better protect the oceans, Lang says it won't ultimately matter unless we all grasp the importance and fragility of our underwater ecosystem. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAVID LANG, CO-FOUNDER, OPEN ROV, SAYING: "The most important thing and the first thing is that we have to get people to care and I think the way to do that is to allow them to engage. It is to give them the tools to actually explore themselves and to feel some sense of ownership in the process." Lang and Stackpole haven't had luck tracking down their underwater gold yet…but say their new mission to open up the oceans to a curious public is worth more than any treasure they can imagine.