Drones looking underwater for new adventures

Not all drones need to fly; some are built to swim. A US-based start-up run by a collection of dive-enthusiast entrepreneurs is proving the point as it seeks to figure out the mysteries of the sea with the Fathom.

Purpose built for recreational divers and snorkelers the drone’s prototype is small enough to get tested in a fish tank and readily portable. If the start-up makes the transition from prototype to production consumers will be able to do a bit of underwater exploration without getting wet. It may also help experienced divers scout more difficult locations, such as entering areas with caves or overhangs, before they dive in headfirst.

The Fathom can be controlled using a smartphone and comes equipped with an onboard camera. A small turbine directs water through voids in the drone’s casing in order to provide propulsion, steering and elevation.

Its makers believe a production version of the Fathom will come in under $500 a unit. It’s a price point that could well make it more accessible than other submersible drones, which thus far have been targeting commercial users. It may prove to be a busy sector, with other makers also targeting consumers with early stage products.

OpenROV Trident, currently the subject of a crowd funding campaign, is one such potential competitor and comes from a company already offering a $900 kit set. What’s notable with the OpenROV models is the open source hardware and software and an already active community of users. Aimed at the amateur oceanographer, the machines have helped deliver shots from depths of 100m, well beyond the limits of recreational divers.

While many drone developers have been looking up and running into an increasingly crowded market heavy with regulation, the potential of the deep remains relatively unexplored.