OpenROV is changing the way we think about ocean outreach and citizen science

The SS Tahoe, once the only means of travel across Lake Tahoe, lies in 150 meters of icy, alpine water, scuttled after she outlived her usefulness. The remote lake presents an extreme technical challenge for divers and the wreck has spent her afterlife relatively undisturbed. Only a few dive teams have ever visited her.

Naturally, she makes the perfect target to test out the new, deeper-diving OpenROV.

OpenROV from Fallen Leaf Films on Vimeo.

With trucks loaded with robots, inflatable boats, and a dizzying array of electronic equipment, we set out for Lake Tahoe, to find the wreck of its most famous steamship, and test the latest improvements to the OpenROV system. Not only were we taking the robots deeper than ever before, but they we’re controlled remotely, via WiFi, through a new interface that included live-streaming of the entire expedition, via Google Hangouts.

The OpenROV package has evolved significantly since the Kickstarter initiative back in 2012, and is more capable than ever. Already several projects are in development to debut OpenROV as a serious platform for scientific research, as well as a tool for exploration. OpenROV’s have been under the Arctic and Antarctic ice, explored mountain caves, alpine lakes, and blue holes. Adding to it’s long list of accomplishments, one OpenROV was even stolen by Caribbean pirates, meaning not only does OpenROV have “the right stuff” but is now also the stuff of legend.

The robot itself is an impressive machine, but the latest updates to its support structure sets it far above other micro ROVs. Chief among the newest advances is the ability to control the robot wirelessly from the surface or remotely from the internet. From the comfort of a vacation rental, a small team of explorers piloted the tiny robot across a near freezing lake. A chilly crew of two tended to the actual robot from a small inflatable boat.

Check out the storify of the SS Tahoe Dive, here:

Beyond the raw innovation this expedition could very well be a formative moment in the way outreach–be it science, exploration, or conservation–is conducted in the field. Outreach works best when it is an integral component of an expedition, and the operating software of OpenROV integrates seamlessly with Google Hangouts, allowing viewers to join in on the discovery from around the world.

It’s not just a tiny robot anymore. This week, the team from OpenROV launched OpenExplorer, a platform to share, coordinate, and fund citizen exploration. In conjunction, they will be providing free ROV’s to lucky participants with incredible projects.

OpenROV and OpenExplorer point towards a future of exploration in which curiosity, rather than access or financial resources, drives discovery.