The little submarine that could

by brian lam

At one point, I was standing in the cave, mostly naked, with a knife in my teeth in case I had to dive down and rescue the submarine by cutting its tether, which was wrapped around a log. But the engineers, always clever, fashioned a hook and rod from some screws and a few 2x4s, using the drill they had brought along. The cave water was colder than ocean water, from what we could tell. Still, I would have gone in. My only wish is that they had finished rescuing the sub before I took my shoes off in the cave, which was in good part covered by bat shit.

I wrote a story about this $750 open source ROV, that can dive to 100 meters, for the New York Times. Please read it.

There are three little things that I couldn’t fit into the story, which I want to tell you about.

Before the OpenROV team could explore the cave in the video above, Hall City Cave in Northern California, an reknowned explorer by the name of Andrew Georgitsis got there first. The OpenROV team was disheartened to find out they were scooped, but Georgitsis set the bar for the ROV to explore the cave later. Georgitsis, who has been a cave and wreck diver for over 20 years, and who has worked for National Geographic to see the wreck of one of the Titanic’s sister ship, the HMHS Britannic, had the support of the California Academy of Sciences, all his experience, multiple divers and $80k in operating and equipment to map out the cave. The cave, which was rumored to have gold inside from a gold rush era robbery, was not found. Neither were new lifeforms. If the OpenROV team can match his work, as geeks with a tool, and map the cave, it will be a success. Andrew Georgitsis is excited to use the tool in future expeditions, once the bugs are worked out, too.

Another thing that I found beautiful about the OpenROV story, which didn’t make it, was something David Lang said to me:

Lang, who is Stackpole’s business partner and who is currently writing a book about becoming a maker, compares the potential of OpenROV to that of the Dobsonian telescope in the 1960s. The telescope, through a novel and inexpensive design, allowed amateur astronomers to participate in observation traditionally limited to professionals.

This led to both increased participation and enthusiasm for the field, but also more discoveries. John Dobson would set up his telescope on the sidewalks of San Francisco and invite passersby to look through the glass to the stars. Lang hopes OpenROV can provide a similar view to the seas. He says, “Dobson’s goal was to make everyone fall in love with the cosmos by giving them a tool to see the night sky. That’s what we’re trying to replicate with OpenROV. “


The third thing I want to show/tell you is a video of the cave and the test run I witnessed.


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