ROV capable of diving to 400 feet


My buddy Willy Volk at Divester has always been good about passing along stories about cool remote operated vehicles and this is no exception. A team of 8 engineering students at RIT have built an ROV capable of diving to 400 feet. Most schools design there ROVs for competition in pools, but the RIT seniors had a real-world goal: exploring shipwrecks in Lake Ontario. They built a lightweight aluminum frame and mounted batteries onboard. The ROV moves via four commercial thrusters controlled by an ATMega128. There are 3 video cameras plus HID lights. All control comes from a laptop using an RS-232 tether. More details are provided in their conference paper PDF.


  1. john says:

    dude, i dont know what it is, but it looks cool as heck.

  2. adaminc says:

    i am building the exact same thing, but not using metal, but 4″, 3″ and 2″ schedule 80 pvc, hopefully it will be able to reach at least 400ft, according to my calcs it should be able to reach at least 700ft, which I will also use in Lake Ontario, but the Canadian side, Go Canada!

  3. Wesley says:

    john (first post)-

    you have never watched a discovery channel special?

  4. IronLizard says:

    I never understood why they use batteries for these things. It’s not like you don’t already have a cord attached. Just run power down from the boat and save $$$.

  5. andrew says:

    it’s because of the cable’s high resistance that they don’t do that — they would need to feed a voltage in the order of a couple hundred volts DC to get any reasonable power at the submersible. it would also prevent the rov from executing onboard emergency procedures in case of a cable breakage. plus, the rov will need weights to keep it submerged to counter the buoyant force, and heavy batteries are a good way to do that without dummy ballast

  6. wim says:

    Wow, cool. I’ve also wanted to build something to explore local lakes and bays. (should probably clear it with the naval bases that are in said bays first) Water here is pretty turbid, so I’d want some kind of sonar…

  7. wim says:

    #6: from the linked page: “The major electrical design decision on the ROV was deciding whether to send power down the tether or to make the vehicle self-powered using battery packs. Batteries were chosen because it was an easier solution to implement, and allowed for the use of an extremely thin, low-drag fiber-optic tether.”

  8. trebuchet03 says:

    very cool. Its good to see engineering senior design projects done well and exceed basic goals set by whatever competition they might be entering.

    Design looks simple and clean — what always works, and works well :D I wonder how easy/difficult it was to pilot…

  9. anonomite says:

    its cool and all, but how is it a hack. its more of a , dunno, DIY or somthing

  10. Levi says:

    That must be some specialized fiber optic cable they’re using for a tether. 3mm? What’s the tensile strength on that? I’d be afraid the thrust from the motors alone would be enough to snap it.

  11. Russ says:

    On most work-class ROVs, the umbilical cable is the most expensive part of the system. This is because it needs to be strong enough to support the weight of the ROV, the weight of itself, not to mention provide communications and high voltage power (typically 3000 volts) over 2-4 kilometers of length. Any reduction in size of this cable has a huge effect on system cost.

    You’re also not going to be able to easily drag around that much cable even if it’s neutrally bouyant. You’ll need more thrust to overcome the drag, more power to generate more thrust, thicker cable to handle the increased power…

    That fiber line is most likely kevlar fiber reinforced with an abrasion-resistant outer shell. It’s probably much stronger than the thruster force, but not strong enough to lift the vehicle.

  12. IF anyone is interested in a three man, < $300 version of the same deal (water tight cases, bilge pumps, pvc and some snappy electronics/software), check out

    Its only water tight to the bottom of a pool, but can be sealed up right good for <100 feet.

  13. wim says:

    looks like it got moved to

  14. OrbnLgnd says:

    yes correct.. I needed my space back! ;)

  15. [firestorm] says:

    This hack is sick
    What are they going to use this for though, besides research? Wreck exploration? Messing with strange alien aquatic lifeforms? (fun!)
    I bet you could resell this thing for 4 to 5 times the ammount that they paid to build it. Theres got to be better uses, (laying depth charges between usa-canada border, for instance lol, just kidding, i’m an american)

  16. digitallysick says:

    wow, i cant believe they made this thing! it would be so much fun to have one, especially with an onboard cam (a good one)

  17. Thrusters like that can be purchased from for about $800 each … not exactly cheap, but still in the range of hobbiests.

    That’s what we’re using on our underwater vehicle:


  18. mongo says:

    It would be great for cave diveing as a forward look see…

  19. Placebo says:

    Use A/C volts like the Video Ray, you will be able to get power down a 1000 foot cable.

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