“People will protect what they love, and they love what they know,” says robotics engineer Eduardo Labarca, paraphrasing Jacques Cousteau. That’s why he and his team at Mountain View, California-based 9th Sense Robotics want to start up an online marine exploration project known as AcquatiCo. If it reaches fruition, it will allow computer users anywhere in the world to control an actual ocean-based submarine, while watching a real-time feed from its onboard video camera.
The submersibles used for the project would be small, unmanned ROVs (remote operated vehicles) based on a prototype already built and regularly used by 9th Sense. Each sub would measure one meter (3.3 feet) long by 12 cm (4.7 inches) across, and would incorporate a 1080p camera, lighting, a geopostioning sensor, and a depth sensor.
They would potentially be able to dive up to 400 feet (122 meters) deep, and would be connected by a 900-foot (274-meter) fiber optic/power cable to a buoy floating at the surface. That buoy would contain a battery pack, along with solar panels for keeping that battery charged. It would also house a military-grade communications system, linking the ROV to the internet via a shore-based relay point.
Third-party ROVs could also be added to the system.
AcquatiCo users would simply log on and schedule a piloting session for the sub of their choice. When that time came, they would be presented with an interface displaying a live feed from the ROV. Using touchscreen or desktop controls, they would then take control of the submersible, using it to explore its marine environment at will. They could take snapshots along the way, plus they could invite friends to join them online, take guided tours, and record their “missions” for later playback.
There would be a small degree of lag between the making of commands and the sub’s responses, although the team at 9th Sense are working on keeping that delay to an absolute minimum.
Labarca plans on starting the service with just one ROV, which might be located off Robinson Crusoe Island (in the South Pacific), Aruba or in Monterey Bay. He is currently raising funds to get things rolling, on Kickstarter. Although smaller pledges can be made, a donation of US$275 will allow you to be one of the first AquatiCo pilots. A pledge of $6,500, on the other hand, will get you your own ROV.
Eduardo hopes to have the system ready for public use by the second quarter of next year.