Underwater remote-operated vehicles, or ROVs, are almost impossibly fascinating. They're controlled by a surface-based operator, who watches their real-time video feed and pilots them via a long umbilical cable. Although the big-league multi-million-dollar ROVs are used for things such as exploring the wreck of the Titanic or studying hydrothermal vents, hobbyists have quite a bit of fun using their own home-built versions just to see what's under the surface of the local lake. Unfortunately, even to build one yourself, you need to be pretty technically skilled. That could change, however, as the OpenROV project is developing "easy to assemble" kits – it may even provide li'l ROVs that are ready to go, right out of the box.

OpenROV is the creation of NASA engineer Eric Stackpole. Its design is open-source, and is also intended to "open" the world of underwater exploration up to people who would otherwise never be able to access it ... hence the name.

In its present form, the neutrally-buoyant sub can descend a maximum of 100 meters (328 feet). It's controlled via a web browser on the user's laptop, which is tethered to a Linux computer on the ROV. It measures just 30 x 20 x 15 centimeters (11.8 x 7.8 x 5.9 inches), weighs 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lbs), and runs on eight C-cell batteries. A central sealed clear acrylic tube houses its web camera, LED headlamps, and other electronics that need to be kept dry. That tube can rotate in order to tilt the camera/lights up and down, and is easily removable for servicing.

Propulsion is provided by three brushless electric motors. These spin two horizontal thrusters – which allow the ROV to move forward, backward, and to rotate – along with a vertical thruster used to change depth.

Already, there is an active community of hobbyists building OpenROVs from scratch. The kit, however, will contain all of the electronics and laser-cut acrylic parts necessary for the less-techy to put one together themselves within a weekend. That kit should reportedly be ready to ship within a few months, at a price of US$750. Stackpole is currently inviting prospective customers to leave him their contact information, so he can let them know when they're ready.

There's no word yet on how much a fully-assembled sub will go for.

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