Undersea Exploration for Everyone

Eric Stackpole

Eric Stackpole is being honored as a Champion of Change for his accomplishments as a crowdfunding pioneer.

There is so much out there to explore.  And while remote patches of land or distant objects in outer space may be the first things that come to mind when exploration is mentioned, the environments that exist underwater—sometimes only tens of meters from the shore—hold a plethora of secrets about how our world works.  All that is needed to get a view of this mysterious world is a group of interested people and the right tools.

A few years ago, David Lang and I created a platform to make exploration of the unseen deep possible for anyone.  We call it OpenROV.  At the center of this effort has been the OpenROV submarine—a shoebox-sized, low-cost, completely open-source underwater remotely operated vehicle (“ROV”) we developed that can be controlled from a laptop computer and that sends live video from its on-board camera as it flies beneath the waves.  Although the OpenROV uses mostly off-the-shelf parts and costs less than a good digital camera, it is capable of journeying to depths beyond where most scuba divers can go, so it can be used as a tool for real exploration.  

When used recreationally or for education, OpenROV can provide a hands-on learning opportunity for people who want to better understand what goes on in the water around them.  Because OpenROV is sold as a kit and has lots of space for additional electronics and payloads, it is also a great learning and development platform for people who want to innovate on their own.  We believe that by making tools like OpenROV accessible to everyone, we can democratize underwater exploration.

Over the last two years, OpenROV has grown from a small group of interested tinkerers to a thriving community of over 1,700 exploration and technology enthusiasts from more than 50 countries.  Everyone in the OpenROV community can contribute to the design and use of OpenROV technology so that its capability is continuously evolving.  A crowdfunding platform provided the funds needed to get OpenROV off the ground and, more importantly, connected us to hundreds of people who were excited to participate. This community has become the beating heart of the project and has enabled innovation to happen at an incredible rate.

Community-based development allows us to innovate faster, and at a lower cost. The value that we are creating goes beyond profit; it advances citizen science, encourages STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, and enables curious explorers. I am grateful that our efforts at OpenROV have been recognized, and I am deeply honored to have been invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program.

Eric Stackpole is Co-Founder of OpenROV, Inc., and Creator of the OpenROV submarine.

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