Andrew Thaler

Andrew Thaler

Deep-sea ecologist. Conservation geneticist. Builder of robots and oceanographic instruments. Mercenary for the Ocean.

216 observations in 12 expeditions


Recent Observations

Baltimore's Inner Harbor is a place of tremendous impacts and profound change. With the combined run-off of over half-a-million people and centuries of industrial development, the Inner Harbor has faced its share of environmental damage. But new initiatives are turning the Inner Harbor around. Solar-powered trashwheels collect plastic and debris before it enters the Chesapeake Bay. Floating wetlands and experimental oyster gardens are slowly cleaning the Inner Harbor's waters. And the Healthy Harbor Initiative is on track to make the Inner Harbor both swimmable and fishable by 2020. Join us for a day on the Inner Harbor with OpenROV Trident as we explore these clean-up efforts and discover the vibrant marine life that still calls Baltimore's Inner Harbor home. Participants will get to fly the new OpenROV Trident, meet with community leaders working to restore the Harbor, and learn a bit more about their local waters. Date is still to be determined, but will happen late this Fall. Follow this expedition for more updates.

In the last decade, the financial cost of conducting marine research has declined by several orders of magnitude and tools once restricted to the most well-funded institutions have become affordable to grass-roots organizations as well as individual stakeholders. One of the most dramatic examples of this is the production of the OpenROV, a low-cost observation-class ROV (remotely operated vehicle). OpenROVs have been used to conduct studies on marine invasive species, establish marine protected areas, and survey historic shipwrecks. Saipan and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are uniquely situated near the Mariana Trench and surrounding Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Despite access to vibrant and diverse marine resources, the capacity to conduct community-driven scientific research, ocean conservation, and fisheries resource management is relatively limited. While national and international research teams use advanced underwater robots to study and explore the regions around the CNMI, there are no marine robotic assets within the Commonwealth dedicated solely to community-driven ocean research and education. While not capable of diving to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a small fleet of accessible observation-class microROVs can be of significant benefit to scientists, citizen scientists, managers, and other ocean stakeholders in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The OpenROV 2.8 ships as a kit to be assembled by the end user. This presents a tremendous opportunity for STEM education programs that teach robotics, electronics, soldering, and coding, as well as marine science. OpenROV Trident is a more advanced ROV which can be used to supplement and expand research projects conducted using OpenROV 2.8s. In conjunction with a long-term management plan, this offers the potential to create a holistic marine robotics education program that not only trains students to use underwater robots but introduces them to careers in marine technology and provides the technological capacity to pursue those careers. This structured capacity-building workshop model was tested in Papua New Guinea in October, 2014. Twenty-three undergraduates from the University of Papua New Guinea joined two marine ecologists, two robotics technicians, and several faculty members from UPNG at the Nago Island Research Facility in Kavieng, New Ireland, to construct 6 OpenROV 2.6 microROVs and learn how to design and implement marine ecologic surveys. Robots from that program were then donated to various stakeholder groups where they were used to survey coral reef biodiversity, monitor garbage accumulation in local lagoons, and track sea cucumber recovery following a national fishing ban (personal communication with W. Saleu, our PNG organizer for that program, and P. Minimulu, director of the Nago Island Research Facility). Similar, though less intensive workshops were conducted with high school students in Gloucester Point, Virginia, in conjunction with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Virginia SeaGrant and, most recently, at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Chauvin, Louisiana. We also recently completed a series of educational ROV experiences throughout the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, where we presented recent discoveries from the Mariana Trench to local student groups and then invited them to join us at local beaches and harbors to learn to fly ROVs and get a hands-on experience in how research is conducted using underwater robots. Project Goals and Objectives The goals of this project are to: Conduct two intensive workshops in marine ecology via remote observation in which community leaders and students learn to build, maintain, and operated observation-class microROVs and develop the skills to design and implement a marine research or education program using ROVs. Provide a minimum of 4 OpenROV 2.8 microROVs and 1 OpenROV Trident for community-driven research in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. To achieve these goals, we will: Identify 2 to 3 community leaders in Saipan and conduct an intensive ROV-building workshop with a focus on teaching, facilitation, and long-term management. Host a second ROV-building workshop in which students, under the direction of Thaler and community leaders from the first workshop, and one additional technician construct at least 3 OpenROV 2.8 observation-class microROVs. Use the ROVs to conduct student-designed marine ecologic surveys under the supervision of mentors and local community leaders. Deliver the ROVs to local community groups for use in community-driven research and education program. We don't ship out to Saipan until Spring 2018, but there's plenty of work to do on identifying community leaders, preparing hardware, and perfecting lesson plans in the lead up to this adventure. This grant was funded by the NOAA Marine Education Training Mini-Grant program.

Testing the wiring harness. And with that, the teardown is complete and we are ready to begin the rebuild!

The motors are off and we're ready to test the electronics and start the rebuild.

It's about time! If you didn't want to sit through hours of raw dive footage, here's the highlight video from our incredible adventure.

A small request: I've now uploaded over 4 hours of dive video to YouTube and I';m working my way through them to pull out the best moments for a highlight video. If you've watched any of them and have a particular moment that you think would be great for the highlight reel, please leave a comment below with the video and time stamp so that I can go back and find it. Thank you! Onward and downward.

The final video! At least of all the long format dives. We finished off with nearly an hour and a half in the big tank at the Underwater World of Guam.

The Rota video is now edited and up. One more and I can start working on the highlight reel.

At last, the complete video from our dive at Taga Beach on Tinian. Some interesting fish, some very interesting debris, and lots of fun had by the high schoolers invited to fly the robot.

Still working hard getting all the HD videos edited and uploaded. Here's a short dive in high current off Sugar Dock, in glorious high definition. The new camera upgrade makes a huge difference.

HD video from our second dive in the Grotto. Much shorter, but if you watch the fish, you can see how intense the surge was.

Here's the HD video from our first dive in the Grotto.

Still working on getting all the video we shot edited and uploaded in glorious HD. In the meantime, enjoy this short video of our flight from Tinian back to Saipan. After an exhaustive Google search, I am fairly confident that, at barely 8 minutes, this is the second shortest regularly scheduled commercial flight route in the the United States. The shortest is another tiny island hopper in Hawaii.

Here's a great article about our work in the Guam Daily Post: With the help of a tiny robot, scientists deepen support for a Mariana Trench sanctuary.

If I had to do it all over again, the University of Guam Marine Lab looks like a pretty epic place to get a masters. All told, these last two weeks we gave >20 talks, reached almost 1000 grade school students on four islands, gave about 40 students a chance to pilot the ROV, did public talks to packed rooms on Saipan and Guam, were featured on radio, TV news, and in print, ate several pounds of chicken keleguin, and visited some of the most beautiful oceanscapes I've ever seen.

Our final event of the trip: a visit to the University of Guam Marine Lab to talk deep-sea science and the Mariana Trench with masters students. After 12 days of talks tailored to grade school students or the general public, we took the opportunity to get extra nerdy. We discussed the role of fossil oxygen in chemosynthesis, shark shunts and microbial mediation in coral reefs, and apparently an ocean spanning collective science crush on Forest Rohwer. Seriously, read Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas. It's a page turner. And, of course, we finished it all off with a chance for everyone to try their hand piloting ROV Trusty.

Trust the Kids How do you keep your students so engaged? I probably get this question more than any other when talking about my robotics workshops with other educators. It's not surprising. Whether it's in-depth ROV building workshops or just an afternoon underwater robot experience, I always seem to attract active, engaged students who are committed to the project. With almost all outreach, there's no magic bullet, no one-special-trick that makes everything work. Outreach is a slow, steady push for broader and deeper education about your topic. But in this case, there actually is one simple thing that makes all the difference. Trust the kids. After dozens of robot building workshops, and even more ROV piloting experiences, the one overwhelming factor that determines how much sudents get out of these events is how much trust you place in them. I've seen programs where the teachers hover over every step, double checking the students to make sure they don't make any mistakes. I've been to ROV-piloting events where students only get to watch as experienced pilots drive an ROV around. This is the least constructive way to do things. Students will make mistakes during an ROV build. That's fine. The best possible outcome is for them to figure out how to correct their errors with minimum input. More often though, they build tough, functional robots that go on to contribute to serious scientific research. The goal of the workshop isn't just to build a working robot, but to use the build as a vehicle for even deeper engagement with science and technology. If all you want is the bot, just hire me to build it (actually, hire Marius. I'm really all about the student workshops). During ROV-experiences, I tend to be even less intrusive. After a brief overview of the controls, I like to step completely away and let the students learn how the bot behaves by trial and error. They have a lot more fun when an instructor is not hovering over them. "But Andrew," you might ask "Aren't you worried about your gear?" Not really, no. In three years of doing this, I've never had a single issue with student pilots. The only time I ever lost a robot, I was the pilot. "What about damage to the environment?" This is the kind of issue that you address in advance, by picking a site that isn't going to be harmed by some enthusiastic ROVing. Highly impacted areas like boat launches and well-trafficked beaches are great places to start. I don't raise the thrust factor up above 3 unless the students are doing really well, an I always do a little survey first to make sure there's no sensative habitat around. Everything about coordinating, organizing, and implementing a robot building workshop for high school students is wickedly complicated, but this is one component that really is just that simple. When in doubt, trust the students.

It's our final day on the island and the final event of our journey through Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. Soon we'll be boarding our planes and making the long flight back to the mainland. Until then, good morning from Guam!

A nice treat for our first (mostly) day off during the trip. We returned to Ritidian Point and got a private tour of the ancient Chamorro latte stone sites and a rare chance to see thousand-year-old pictograms left int he Star Cave.

We made an impromptu visit to the JFK High School Robotics class Monday morning and were blown away by the students, who were in the process of coding autonomous vehicles. The next generation of robot engineers, right here!

Angelo made friends with a grouper while we were diving in the Underwater World of Guam.

I didn't manage to get any pictures, but we gave a talk at War in the Pacific National Park to a packed crowd of adults and kids, and got some of the best questions of the entire trip. A great group and a ton of fun. Afterwards we convened at the Underwater World of Guam, where Trusty did its final dive of the trip, an hour and half cruising through the big centerpiece tank of the exhibit, with plenty of ROV piloting opportunities for the guests. Once I'm back on the mainland and have high-speed internet, I'll put up the dive video (and all the others).

Sunday was our busiest day of the trip, with a visit to the Ritidian Point National Wildlife Refuge to meet with the new director, followed by talks, dives, more talks, and a great evening at the Underwater World of Guam Aquarium.

Good morning from Guam! Island number 4 in our adventure across the Pacific.

A view of Garapan, from the top of Mt. Tapochau, the highest point on the island.

What is a Saipanda? This is a Saipanda. Yeah, I don't really know either. Angelo has more: Gomen na Saipanda

We've earned a little bit of media attention out here in the last week, including an article in the Saipan Tribune: Marine scientists talks about Marianas Trench at Rotary and we'll be on the radio this Sunday: Marianas Trench Marine National Monument to be discussed on ‘Your Humanities Half-Hour’. Though I'm pretty sure that there are no "Giant Anthropoids" in the deep-sea. Giant Amphipods, however, are abundant. Another week eating the delicious food in CNMI and I might become a giant anthropoid.

Rick's photos from Forbidden Island capture a bit more of the excitement.

Our first "day off" after a long week of talking to students and stakeholders. We took a hike out to Forbidden Island to enjoy the beach and do some snorkeling.

Dive 5: Rota A short clip from an over-an-hour-long dive, with students driving almost the entire time.

Nothing quite like an impromptu Ukelele session while driving underwater robots.

We had a great group of students show up to pilot the OpenROV, and using the van as a staging area meant people could actually see the screen and fly off the laptop rather than watching the robot.

Setting up our control van for the next ROV piloting experience.

Rota is home to the latte stone quarry where the largest latte stones were cut, but never lifted or finished. Where they were headed to or why the Chamorro people stopped before they finished is one of those mysteries lost to antiquity.

I've been trying to keep everything in chronological order, but now there's a pretty big backlog of videos and photos and with connectivity being unreliable, I think it's best if we just keep pushing forward and just backtrack every so often. We're in Rota today, talking to students from Rota Junior and Senior High Schools. But first, we had a few hours to explore the island and experience some of its history. The remains of this Shinto shrine at the Rota Peace Park are fascinating. On one face, white encrusting lichens dominate the rock. On the other, red fructicose lichens and bromeliads cover the stone. They are separated by maybe half a meter. It's really cool to see these kinds of microbiomes.

Dive 4: Tinian After talking to students at Tinian Junior Senior High School, we invited them down to the beach to drive the robot and get a better understanding of how research is conducted using underwater robots in shallow and deep-sea ecosystems. These kids were some of our best ROV pilots. A short clip from the long dive, with just a bit of exploration and ecology, below:

Latte Stones Latte stones are the pillars used by native Chamorros as supports for their houses. Large pillars capped with flat topped hemispheres act as the foundation for a wooden structure on top. Latte stones are found throughout the Marianas Islands, but one of the most impressive latte stone ruins is the Taga house in Tinian.

Tinian is notable for being the island from which the Enola Gay took off from to drop the first and second atomic bombs every deployed in war. The bombs were so massive that they couldn't be simply loaded onto the plane. Special pits were constructed that allowed each bomb to be lifted into an aircraft parked above. The runways and bomb pits are still there, preserved as a permanent reminder to the horror that atomic weapons unleashed upon the world.

Tinian is the smaller island to the south of Saipan. We took a Piper Cub across the channel to present at the Tinian Junior Senior High School. Arriving early, we had the chance to tour some beaches, get our car stuck in the sand, successfully egress the vehicle, and head deep into the Tinian jungle, where relics of the Second World War are slowly being reclaimed.

After a hard days work, we got to sit and enjoy the sunset from a nice, cool, beachfront bar. For those wondering, the weather hasn't exactly cooperated with us for the last couple of days, so we haven't been able to do dive ops, but we're hoping to dive the robot again on Tinian, tomorrow.

I've traveled the world talking science, outreach, and conservation to a lot of different students, scientists, and stakeholders, and there's nothing quite like being the lead story on the local news.

After the Rotary Club, we headed down to the local TV station to give some interviews about our science and the value of the Mariana Trench Monument.

Continuing the education tour, we talked about coral reefs, science communication, and OpenROV workshops with the Saipan Rotary Club, while showing off our underwater robot to a new crowd. Lots of great ideas from the group about ways access to underwater robot can benefit the community.

Obligatory ROV Selfie from Saipan International High School.

Next stop, Saipan International High School, to talk about the incredible biodiversity of the Mariana Trench.

We visited Saipan Southern to talk to high school students about the wonders of the Mariana Trench and show them how small, open-source robots can contribute to science, conservation, and tourism in CNMI.

Obligatory ROV Selfie from Saipan Southern High School.

Rick, Angelo, and I spent the morning on Power 99's Your Humanities Half Hour with Catherine Harris to talk about the Monument, all the incredible science happening in the Mariana Trench, and the research and education programs we run with OpenROV.

Rick, Angelo, and I spent the morning on Power 99's Your Humanities Half Hour with Catherine Harris to talk about the Monument, all the incredible science happening in the Mariana Trench, and the research and education programs we run with OpenROV.

We closed out our first full day in Saipan with a sunset walk down the beach and dinner with friends old and new.

Raw video from Dive 3. Check out the huge sea cucumber at 0:10!

In the afternoon, we headed out to the beach near the Saipan Surf Club for a barbecue followed by some OpenROV diving off the local fishing pier. The current was kicking, so we settled the bot on the bottom and watched schools of fish swim by.

During an exciting morning diving the OpenROV in the Grotto, with plenty of children around to watch and fly the robot, Rick had the misfortune of jumping in the water with his smartphone, so Angelo wrote a song about it.

On our way to the next event, we stopped at Bird Island and were lucky enough to see five sea turtles hanging out in the water below.

Diving the Grotto Here's the unedited footage from our first dive in the Grotto using the experimental HD camera rig. Video upload is low resolution due to bandwidth limitations our here, but you should see the uncompressed images. This camera setup is amazing.

When it comes to ROV operations, I enforce the Outreach Prime Directive: If there are kids around, they get to drive the robot.

Shakedown Dives We arose early this morning to beat the crowds to the Grotto, an enclosed cavern connected to the sea by submerged tunnels. There, we met up with our diver and several representatives who had worked on the Mariana Trench Monument and showed off our little robot. Shakedown dives are critical after a long flight, to make sure that all the systems are still working. We had a few software issues, but it was otherwise a fantastic morning of diving. More pictures and video to come.

Good Morning from Saipan! The robot is prepped and ready to go. We're heading out to the Grotto for our fist dive of the trip! After a long day of travel, the last thing you want is for your ROV to flood on the first dive. If a well built ROV with a proven record is going to flood, it's going to be on that first dive. So check your systems, take it easy, and keep that first shakedown dive after a long journey shallow and gentle.

Stop one: Houston. One question I get a lot is "how do you handle airport security when carrying all this weird gear? Aren't you worried they'll refuse to let you on?" There's always the chance that you'll get that one overly skeptical security agent that won't let you carry on your gear, but it hasn't happened to me yet. This month's Make: magazine has a large spread of airport security horror stories, but they are still few and far between. There are a few steps you can take to make things easier. (This is all predicated on the fact that I am an able-bodied white man, the demographic group least likely to incur additional airport scrutiny. And that's really point 1: the member of your team with the most privilege should carry the gear most likely to arouse suspicion.) The longest security delay I've had carrying gear is an hour and a half, so now I always plan for that and arrive two hours early if I have an OpenROV in tow. I pack it in a clean, professional looking case. And I dress at minimum, business casual, more often in a crisp button down, slacks, and blazer. Expect security to search your case (OpenROVs look weird in the x-ray. Frankly, I get concerned when they don't search it.) If you're on an education and outreach expedition, this is an outreach opportunity. Practice getting someone excited about underwater exploration. Sometimes I'll call ahead, especially if I'm traveling with more exotic gear, and let the TSA know I'm coming and what I'm bringing (I do this with scientific samples too, obviously). And some gear I just dont try to fly with. OpenCTDs just don't look kosher and life is easier for everyone if you mail them ahead.

In Saipan, I'll be joining up with Angelo Villagomez, the godfather of the Mariana Trench Monument (@taotaotasi) and Rick MacPherson (@rmacpherson), who is responsible for this photoshopped creation.

Here's a challenge for you: with less than a week of prep time, what's the bare minimum gear you'd need to take an ROV to the Northern Marianas Islands, to run an education and outreach experience for students of all ages, diving in pools, aquarium tanks, protected lagoons, and possibly open water? Oh, and everything has to fit as a carry-on, including all the luggage you need to look like a professional for two weeks. Here's my ROV Kit: OpenROV 2.8 (Trusty) with HD camera upgrade Spare ROV brain (for fast swapping in the event of catastrophic failure) Spare end cap (because you never know) 2 sets of replacement o-rings, ranger bands, screws, battery tube caps Vacuum pump (for sealing tight and reducing moisture inside the electronis tube) Hemostat (super useful for a million different problems, TSA approved) Gamepad (Kids love flying with it) Topside box (small tools, 2 topside adapters, silicon lube, SD card with software, cables, electrical tape) Battery chargers (not shown) This is about as bare bones as I've ever traveled with while still feeling confident I have everything I need to get the job done.

The Marianas Trench At 11,000 meters, the Marianas Trench is the deepest point on our planet. Only 2 human-occupies vehicles and 2 remotely-operated vehicles have ever reached the bottom of the Trench. Trieste was retired decades ago, after a long and illustrious career; Kaiko was lost overboard during Typhoon Chan-Hom; Nereus imploded on its second expedition into the Trench; and James Cameron's Deepsea Challenger was severely damaged in a fire during transport. Today there are more vehicles that have left the solar system than can dive to the bottom of the deepest ocean. Unlike deep space, the deep sea is teaming with life. The Marianas Trench lies in the middle of a biodivesity hotspot. From glass-eyed cat sharks to enigmatic chimera to playful squat lobster to the magestic, awe-inspiring power of a hydrothermal vent, the Marianas Trench is bursting with life. There are few things that gie me more joy than to share the wonder of the deep sea with the world. Tomorrow I set off for the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and Guam to join a team of passionate ocean scientist and ocean advocates to help tell the story of the Marianas Trench. In collaboration with the Pew Global Ocean Legacy program, I will be talking to students, scientists, and citizens about the incredible life the thrives in the deepest ocean, as well as my work with developing new technologies to reshape the way researchers, citizen scientists, and explorers study the sea. I will be bringing with me Trusty, an OpenROV 2.8 built by high school students from the Gloucester High robotics team--the Robodukes--from Gloucester, Virginia, that I've upgraded with an experimental HD camera rig. Weather permitting, we'll be diving on some shallow seamounts at the edge of the Trench, glimpsing coral formations that lie beneath the reach of professional SCUBA divers. Join me as we journey to the Marinas Trench, from surface to abyss!

I'm taking a brief break from rebuilding Honeycomb to go explore the Marianas Trench. Follow along with the Surface to Abyss expedition: https://openexplorer.com/expedition/fromsurfacetoabyss

More from the battery tube tear down. There is some minor chemical damage on the rear acrylic piece, but it looks like the fuse adapter/spacer and the front battery contact took the brunt of the assault. The smell emitted from the tube was distinctly acrid and reminded me of paint stripper. Which, incidentally, leads my to my current working hypothesis of what happen. At some point after Honeycomb was lost, the o-ring on one of the battery tubes failed. This allowed freshwater (Lake George, an alpine lake in upstate New York is extremely fresh). This generated a very weak current, which began to electrolyze the water, producing hydrogen peroxide, which, in high concentrations, reacts with acrylic (which the end caps are made from) but does not affect polycarbonate (which the tube is made of. So the acrylic parts get reduced to mush and the tube itself is relatively unharmed. The fact that the front end cap was significantly more damaged than the rear suggests that Honeycomb was lying on a slope, with its nose pointed down.

Watch the battery tube tear-down.

Today I pulled the batteries out of Honeycomb. One tube managed to stay completely sealed during the entire 18 month submergence. The other did not fair nearly so well. Can you guess which is which?

Over a year ago, while diving in an alpine lake in upstate New York, we paid the exploration tax: openexplorer.com/expedition/foreverex I had all but given up hope that the OpenROV we lost would ever be recovered. Then, last month, a local diver contacted me. After almost 18 months on the lake floor, somewhere between 30 and 70 meters deep, Honeycomb has returned! This little bot is in pretty bad shape, but it can be rebuilt. It will dive again. Join us as we systematically disassemble this legendary robot and rebuild it. This is Honeycomb Rising!

The Flood. While California continues into its unending epic drought, we on the east coast experienced a thousand-year deluge that flooded out entire cities, and left huge chunks of North and South Carolina under water. We got off fairly unscathed, but, just to give you an idea of how intense it was, here's a video of me, driving my OpenROV through the front yard.

If I have one complaint about OpenROV, it's these puny little topside adapters. Can we pleased build something with some heft? Both are basically dead after 3 hard days on the water.

We're back in Duluth. Over the next few days I'll post our formal station reports from the last few days.

Steaming home after an epic 3 day voyage.

After two successive dives, including one where we flooded at 70 meters, the Colonial Lee is ready for some TRR (tear-down, rebuild, revive). The Niskins and servo kept firing all the way to the bottom, though we had to do a power cycle on the final dive, which triggered the servo early and only partially. It was the only misfired Niskin of the entire cruise. Over all, this was a triumph. I'm making a note here: "Huge success."

This is what it looks like when an OpenROV floods at 70 meters and just keeps swimming.

Prepping for the final two dives.

My hardware projects are only a small component of the overall cruise. Dr. Chris Filstrup is taking vertical plankton samples from all across the lake.

The filter holder, attached to the CTD.

After multiple casts, some to more than 100 meters, this small bubble is the total volume of water that intruded into the CTD during it's 4 days of operation. Not bad.

The final cast. At last, we come to our last station. The OpenCTD has gone down on four casts this trip, ranging in depth from 13 meters to 140 meters. I have a lot of work left to do with regard to processing data, assessing how accurate and precise the probes are, and fixing all the issues that I'm sure will emerge as we dig into the data. But for now, an end-of-cruise teardown indicates minimal water intrusion and no degradation of internal systems. Data logging was consistent and without critical error. We also detected no mineral oil leakage during the casts, which is important for both equipment housing and environmental concerns.

Dr. Horner with his new filter holder.

Rapid prototyping at sea. One of the secondary missions for me during this cruise is to assess the utility of using a 3D printer for rapid prototyping at sea. I intentionally brought minimal gear for my deployments and printed out parts as needed. In addition, I'm working with the other scientists to fulfill needs (you always leave at least one thing back on shore). The first fab job was a filter holder for Dr. Tristan Horner. It doesn't look like much, but this tiny piece holds a very delicate water filter that went over the side on our last CTD cast to provide a water column sample to compare his discrete samples against.

Sectioning cores by moonlight.

We pushed the OpenCTD down to 140 meters. Everything appears to be working fine, but I am concerned that the temperature probes have begun to drift.

Small boat ops are a great chance to get action shots of our mothership, RV Blue Heron.

The OpenCTD really shines for small boat work with hand deployments. With both open-source CTDs and Niskin bottles, who wants to help create the OpenRosette?

Greetings from the bottom of Lake Superior! Sadly, there were no fish to be seen, but the second Niskin bottle works just fine.

I did a teardown and rebuild on the waterproof servo and rigged it to my second Niskin bottle, along with a bait basket that we designed and printed while underway. The OpenROV is once again ready to dive for science.

Our small boat crew heads out to the Apostle Islands.

Nothing says science like a bag labeled chum.

The portable oceanographer. In preparation for small boats ops, I put together a field backpack with all the tools of an open-source oceanographer: OpenCTD, OpenROV, mini-Niskins, bait bucket for camera work; plus, of course, a notebook and laptop to run the system. All crammed into, onto, and around a small backpack.

After two long years, here at last is the very first water column profile from the OpenCTD. Tomorrow we go to 140 meters!

There's something liberating about making one of your expedition goals "push your gear so far it fails, then figure out why." It means that complete destruction is valuable data. Which is where we are with the underwater servo, a prototype gifted to me by the good folks at OpenROV central command. It triggered beautifully at 45 meters, collecting yet another discrete water sample. Unfortunately, as my robot breached the surface, we were greeted by a sheen of food-grade mineral oil, a clear indication that the servo had failed. Closer inspection revealed that the o-ring around the servo collette had been pushed in, breaking the seal. Not much I can do out here to fix that. Meanwhile, my personal ROV seems to have the particular tendency to flood at exactly 50 meters in very cold freshwater, so it's also receiving a little TLC. Even with these setbacks, we had an awesome dive. At about 38 meters, we hit a layer of mysid shrimp jauntily swimming towards the surface. It lasted for all of two meters, a reminder that even seemingly stable lakes are heavily stratified. We have some other plans for the robot, so, for now, the Niskin bottle has been removed.

It's a beautiful calm night here on Lake Superior.

Colonial Lee has had a pretty rough day, but tomorrow this little robot gets a full rebuild and a brand new battery tube.

A happy robot and a happy ROV pilot after the first successful field deployment.

At 20 meters, we triggered the OpenROV-mounted Niskin bottle and took the very first field sample ever collected with a 3D printed Niskin bottle. Welcome to the future.

We recovered the OpenCTD after a 30 meter dive. All systems check out. Now, on to data analysis!

The OpenCTD is rigged up to the rosette and ready to dive.

Tonight, before closing up ship for the evening, we took my OpenROV out on the deck and tested the complete Niskin/Servo?ROV-mount system in the water for the first time. The rig obviously makes the bot heavy, but the servo works perfectly and the bottle slammed shut on first signal. After driving it around for 15 minutes, we returned to the surface and confirmed that the Niskin bottle was sealed tight. We have our first OpenROV-powered water sample! Tomorrow, the OpenCTD goes out on the line.

Meet the mini-fabrication lab aboard the RV Blue Heron. We're ready to begin rapid prototyping of open-source oceanographic tools.

Good morning! It's mobilization day aboard the RV Blue Heron.

Mobilization 1. Believe it or not, but there is an entire mini-fabrication lab packed and ready to go out to sea in the big blue suitcase. The future is now.

Checking in from the Bean Town airport. Important advice for anyone going on expedition (and really, just good travel advice in general), Chicago is one of those airports that are consistently delayed. Tight connections are a bad idea. I always budget a 3 hour layover if I have to fly through Chicago, just in case. Today, it paid off, as my flight out of Richmond didn't even take off until well after it was scheduled to land. And while everyone else on my flight is standing in the customer service line trying desperately to get a different flight (also often impossible at Chicago), I get to enjoy a drink and dinner. So there's that. Traveling is a mess, and it's an even bigger mess if you're both an international traveler and an environmentalist. There's no easy answer. Flying is nasty business and there is not shortcut to absolving yourself of carbon guilt. Most of the people I work with accept it as a necessary evil, genuinely believe that the work they do will ultimately yield greater benefits to the environment than the harm they cause by flying. I tend to agree. In the last couple of years, I've been trying to remove extraneous travel from my professional life. Teleconferencing technology has helped quite a bit, but for times when I have to travel, I've engaged in the infuriating, often baffling task of excising "stupid routes" from my itinerary. A stupid route is a route that takes you thousands of miles in the wrong direction. A stupid route takes you from Richmond to New Jersey to fly to Atlanta. A stupid route sends you north to go south, east to go west. If I can't avoid flying, I can at least avoid flying in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, stupid routes are cheap routes, and clean, no-nonsense flights that go from point A to point C though point B, which happens to be reasonably and rationally located somewhere between A and C are not cheap. No-nonsense routes are often twice as much as stupid routes, if not much, much more. But it's worth it, at least to me. It's the cost of being at least a bit more aware of our impacts on the environment. Someone should write some code that finds the least stupid routes for any given itinerary. I'd use it.

Checking in from the Richmond Airport. After years of flying question-free, in the last five trips, the TSA has asked to inspect the OpenROV at security. I find this comforting, but also, fellow ROV World Travelers, plan accordingly. The last two times has resulted in a 15 minute delay.

Down to the sea again. Over the last month, I've been working frantically to finish some major hardware projects--both the 3D-printed Niskin bottles and the long-suffering OpenCTD. Both projects are now ready for field trials, so it's time to head out to sea. Tomorrow I'm heading up to Lake Superior to participate in the UNOLS Chief Scientist Training Cruise aboard the R/V Blue Heron. This is also a great opportunity to test out the OpenROV servo prototype in the field. The Niskin Bottle and OpenCTD could become powerful tools for open science, citizen science, and oceanography for everyone. If they work. Let's find out.

How Man and Machine Unlocked the Ocean's Depths Check out my latest article on Motherboard! http://bit.ly/1Mg9Mq9 "To understand the sea, to dive beneath the waves and experience its awesome, unforgiving wonder, was once the privilege of a few fortunate explorers, but new technologies are lowering the barriers to entry and creating a generation of globally-connected ocean explorers."

A 3D printable Niskin bottle for water sampling? Yes, please! The Niskin bottle, a seemingly simple tube designed to take water samples at discrete depths, is one of the most important tools of oceanography. Coupled with a CTD, an array of Niskin bottles fit into the rosette, a Voltron-esque amalgamation of everything an oceanographer needs to profile the ocean. Niskin bottles are neither cheap nor particularly easy to use. A commercial rosette requires a decent-sized winch to launch and recover, which means you need a vessel and a crew to deploy. For Rogue Ecologist and citizen scientists, getting a high-quality, discrete water sample is a perpetual challenge. With tools like the OpenROV and the soon-to-be-completed EcoDrone, I wanted a Niskin bottle that was light weight and capable of being mounted on both underwater robots and quadcopters with ease. Until now. After a few months of brainstorming and planning, I sat down this Friday and began building a 3D printable Niskin bottle that could be hand deployed or mounted on an OpenROV or drone. While this version is designed around a 1.25 inch acrylic tube, the trigger mechanism can be expanded to fit any size pipe. The trigger is driven by a waterproof servo developed by the good folks over at OpenROV. Everything else can either be purchased off-the-shelf or printed on you home 3D printer. Later this month, I'll be taking my prototypes out on the RV Blue Heron for field testing in Lake Superior. Read full build instructions at Southern Fried Science: southernfriedscience.com/?p=18730

Highlight Reel from our Lake George Dives (the ones where we didn't lose any robots).

Final day of diving. After a couple of mishaps and one lost robot, we finished off with a great day of diving right off 14 Mile Island. Highlight videos to come later this week.

Not every great discovery takes place in the water. While wandering though the shops in nearby Bolton Landing, I happened upon two nearly pristine copies of Life Magazine's 1960 issue featuring the dive of the bathyscaph Trieste into Challenger Deep. I've been searching for this particular issue for years. To find two in such great shape is an absolute treat.

Paying the Exploration Tax Honeycomb was never meant to last this long. Custom built for the Bay Area Maker Faire, it had a special shell that prevented mobs of excited kids from catching their fingers in the thrusters. It performed exceptionally through its first Maker Faire and, several weeks later, was shipped of the DC for National Maker Faire. Over these two events, over 1000 attendees, most of them children, flew Honeycomb. Honeycomb was flown by more people than almost any other individual OpenROV. After two intense Maker Faires, this little robot was retired to my fleet, to serve as a backup machine to Colonial Lead, diving in when needed. Unfortunately, she dove this morning for the last time. While attempting to examine the wreck of the Land Tortoise, in Lake George, New York, Honeycomb's tether broke. After a prolonged survey, it was clear that the little robot wasn't returning to the surface. So what happened? Honeycomb's original tether was barely ten meters long. In order to convert the robot to field operations, we extended the tether to fifty meters, using spare wire lying around our workshop. It was clear that the tether had failed at one of the several solder joints. The failure was entirely my fault, for using hacked together materials rather than investing in a full length tether. Colonial Lee, though it suffered a very minor leak after a fifty meter dive (the teaspoon of freshwater in the housing is the reason Honeycomb was in the water at all), is still alive and kicking, so our Lake George Adventure continues. This is the Exploration Tax. At some level, you have to be willing to accept losses in order to push the limits in order to find the limits of these machine capabilities. Sure, these robots wouldn't be very good tools if we lost them all the time, but after expeditions stretching from Papua New Guinea, to coastal Florida, to Lake Tahoe, and the Chesapeake Bay, after more than 500 dives with OpenROVs from the Kickstarted 2.3 to the current 2.7+, I can accept that a lost robot is the price we pay. What I can't accept is leaving trash on the sea floor or lake bed. We've left notes with the local dive shops and the Lake George Association to keep an eye out for the robot. It was lost on a fairly well traveled dive site, so I have hope that someone will recover it. And who knows, maybe it will slowly rise back to the surface and some intrepid kid will find it resting on their beach, waiting to be repaired. Until then, let's hope we get another 500 dives before the Exploration Revenue Service comes a callin'.

Speaking of invasives. We' spotted a few Zebra Mussels on our systems-check dive yesterday afternoon. Zebra mussels are a major species of concern throughout the Great Lakes and, along with rainbow smelt, Asian clams, watermillfoil, spiny water flea, and pondweed. and are among the most prolific invaders in Lake George.

Essential pre-expedition research. Just because we're technically on vacation doesn't mean we aren't doing our proper due diligence before sending our robots into the water. Lake George has a ton of history and is facing significant environmental challenges. Team Forever Expedition is spending our evenings reading through the 2014 State of the Lake Report, which covers the last 30 years of scientific surveys of Lake George: fundforlakegeorge.org/stateofthelake And, of course, familiarizing ourselves with all the local invasive species concerns and potential vectors: fundforlakegeorge.org/threats/invasive-species

The next major expedition. Amy and I are on our way up to Lake George, New York to meet up with David Shiffman and spend five days on the water, searching for shipwrecks from the French and Indian War. Over 200 warships were sunk in this lake in the summer of 1758, the most famous of which is the Lost Radeau: thelostradeau.com, With our tiny fleet of ROVs, we're hoping to spot the remains of a few more. Kirby, the world's greatest farm dog, will stay behind to tend to our livestock.

Simple. Ubiquitous. Cheap. Technology becomes really interesting not when it's at the bleeding edge of development, pushing the limits of what's possible, but when it becomes embedded into society in ways that allow the power of mass adoption to reshape how we interact with the world. I had one of those clarifying moments earlier this week coming back from a trip up the Delaware Coast. Sitting in the rest stop along the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Bridge, we saw a large cargo ship begin its transit. It was sitting high in the water, and the shape was a little bit off--it didn't look like most of the big container vessels that pay the Port of Baltimore a visit. The shipping company, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logisitics, was clearly emblazoned across starboard side (and, presumably, the port side), so I pulled out my phone and looked it up. Within 30 seconds, I had ship tracks for the Oberon, cargo data, specifications, and it's next port of call. Five years ago, accessing that information that quickly would have been unimaginable. That moment comes on the heals of this report, coordinated by SkyTruth, on crimes aboard ships that routinely flaunt the law: nyti.ms/1fYzIL3 On the high seas, these vessel are nigh untraceable,, but perhaps with the technology we already carry around every day, we can make things like this just a bit harder to get away with. At the very least, we have the power now to learn a little more about our local shipping channels.

Seagrass: Friend or Foe? My latest OpenROV dive debrief. MicroROV pilots should avoid seagrass beds if possible, but if you must, here's one helpful maneuver to get through without wrecking your bot or the delicate ecosystem.

Assemble the ultimate topside kit. A quick tutorial on everything you need to fix your ROV in the field.

Reflecting on three years as a Maker. Three years ago, "maker" wasn't a word that had entered my vocabulary. Back then, I was a carpenter, a furniture builder, an occasional boat builder, heck, I even worked on multi-million dollar ROVs, but, somehow, I hadn't yet found the maker movement. Then a couple of misfits from California kickstarted an open-source ROV and the rest, as they say, is history. Sitting down and finally finishing the original 2.3 kit gave me the opportunity to reflect on how far I've come. My solder joints were such a mess that I ended up redoing all of them. The Beaglebone was fried--likely shorted the first time I tried to power the robot on. The tether was, well, not good. Comparing that build to my latest 2.7 (or the half built art bot; or the 2.6 currently out on loan to a colleague in Alaska) is like night and day. Even though my first 2.3 is imperfect, and will likely only ever be used as a showpiece rather than an expedition vehicle, it still the most important robot in my fleet. Tins Lee, serial number 116, was the robot that started everything else. My first "maker" project was the Sea Leveler--a turn of the century water level gauge that I hacked to listen to twitter and rise and fall with fluctuations in the online conversation surrounding sea level rise. That project helped me learn Arduino, talk to Twitter's API, and run a stepper motor. Since then, I've moved on to bigger, more complicated projects, but it all began with that little kickstarter kit.

Three years in the making. Finally, 3 years after the original OpenROV Kickstarter, my little 2.3 is ready for the water. I asked on the last thread, but no one answered and I'm still curious, how many 2.3s are left in the wild?

The Rare OpenROV Double-Phoenix How many 2.3 bits can you find on this table? Answer: too many. Thanks to a quick tour through the OpenROV HQ Scrap Bin, I managed to scrounge up an extra brain for my Kickstarter original 2.3. This poor blue creature never quite made it into the ocean, so one of the major goals for the Forever Expedition is to finally get this little bot back in the field. Digging through the wiring from my original brain was a humbling exploration in to just how far I've come as a maker in the last three years. 2012 Andrew's solder joints look terrible, the original Beaglebone was fried thanks to a brutally obvious short circuit, and at least one coil on each motor was damaged beyond repair. This new Franken-2.3 has a new Beaglebone White, new motors, and I've hacked in the Tenda topside adapter to replace the old ETS Baluns. But that's not all. In addition to the 2.3, you might also spot a hodge-podge of parts from 2.5s, 2.6s, and 2.7s This hybrid beast will form the heart of an Art Bot that I'm putting together for an ocean acidification outreach project that I'm working on, I've always wondered how many of the original Kickstarter kits made it into the ocean. If you have one that you've managed to take to sea, let me know in the comments!

As a final parting adventure before our team again scatters to the four corners of the globe, we went out to Sonoma for some fancy-pants wine tasting. We did not make it past Ravenswood.

We had an amazing time at the Bay Area Maker Faire this weekend! Sadly, my too-short visit to California is almost over.

Our away team worked up quite a thirst surveying the floor of Lake Tahoe. What's a dedicated robot crew to do but send them a cold one in style? I, for one, welcome our new underwater robot bartenders.

Checking in from Chicago-O'hare enroute to the 2015 Haxpedition and Maker Faire. Who else am I going to see there?

So here's the story behind our antler-based tether management system: Karyn came down to pick up Indy, at which point I realized that we had no good tether reels--Colonial Lee has the big PVC one. My grand plan was to eventually use old 3D printer filament spools for keeping tether neat and tidy on the older bots, but alas, we had no spare filament rolls ready to go. So, after 30 minutes digging through my workshop, we came up with the only quick and dirty solution, an old rack of antlers hanging from the rafters. Did it work? That depends on what you mean by work. Did it keep the tether tidy during transit? Sure. Was is easy to manage unspooling and respooling the tether during ROV deployment. No. Not at all. Awful. Usability? None. 0 out of 10. Would not recommend.

It was a beautiful day on the Lake.

Amy tends our... rather unique tether reel.

We took Karyn and Indy out to Beaverdam Lake for a quick training run. This also gave us the chance to test out the GoPro quickclip mount. While mounted underneath, it did alter the flight characteristics of the bot and caused it to pitch downwards, but after 10 or 15 minutes of practice, we had the robot compensated. The GoPro hung on and shot some amazing footage of a completely underwhelming muddy lake bottom. But at least we didn't get trapped under a log this time.

Passing the torch. Indy is heading up to Alaska with our friend Karyn for the next five months. In preparation, we're heading back to Beaverdam lake for a few training dives. Enjoy the pirate theme of our expedition vehicle.

Add a GoPro to you robot! My bot project for the weekend was to design a simple way to attach and detach a GoPro to the OpenROV. The end product, based on my Quickclip system, works pretty well, though I doubt I'll have any time for sea trials before the Tahoe Haxpedition next month. 3D printer files are here: youmagine.com/designs/quickclip-openrov-gopro-mount Enjoy!

OpenROV Debrief: Shark Tagging in Miami Dive in to our recent adventure tagging sharks in Florida.

Brains out. In the ever growing field kit for OpenROV, I clearly need to add a microSD card with a fresh image. Somehow mine was corrupted over the last few days. And that's why we bring two robots.

Some OpenROV resources for you. In preparation for the workshop I led last week, I put together this quick, 2-page cheat sheet to cover the basics of ROV operation, pre- and post-dive checklists, and minimizing transport of invasive species. Feel free to download and use for your own dives. PDF is here: http://bit.ly/1C1Kmn7

It's a shark diving day. Are you ready?

I had a great day running a marine robotics workshop at UM/RSMAS. Now enjoying a cold beer at the campus bar.

Back online. After a little troubleshooting and some help from OpenROV legend Eric Stackpole, both ROVs are back in the water and running at peak performance.

Have bots, will travel. We're on our way to Miami to meet up with the Hammerschlag lab for some OpenROV-based shark surveying. In case you were wondering, the Pelican 1520 fits two OpenROVs and just barely stows underneath the seat in front of you. And yes, this will be the big field trial for both the tether floats and the QuickClip system.

Locked and loaded. Next week I'm heading down to Florida to run an OpenROV for Science workshop with students and faculty at the University of Miami. Planning out this workshop revealed two large gaps in my ROV toolbox. A good training hook. Usually when I teach people how to pilot the robots, I tape a rod to the front and have them dive through a hoop and collect a target on the bottom. This always felt a little kludgey to me. A line follower. We're going out on a shark tagging expedition to see if OpenROV can reduce shark stress and researcher fatigue by allowing us to inspect drumlines in the water, rather than hauling 80 meters of line every time we pass. For this, I want the dive to be as quick as possible and don't want to waste minutes searching for the anchor, so I want something that lets the robot clip in to an anchor line and follow it down.With these two needs in mind, I spent a long, snow-filled weekend in front of the 3D printer. Introducing the OpenROV Quickclip payload system! youmagine.com/designs/openrov-quickclip-payload-system In addition to the two tools described, this systems also includes a strong, easy to install, and easy to detach system for locking tools to the payload bay (as long as you install to spanning rods in the front of the ROV). There's also a quickclip blank, in both .stl and .skp formats, for you to develop your own tools for the OpenROV. Enjoy.

There are as many different ways to be an explorer as there are places to explore. From the hidden estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay to the skies around abandoned factories to the microscopic fauna in your own intestines, the Forever Expedition will travel, question, and discover. Why do we need this? Not every journey emerges from months of planning, logistics, and implementation, with clear goals. The Forever Expedition is different. Its only goal is exploration. One week we could be flying OpenROV's through a freshwater beaver lake in Virginia, the next we might be diving shipwrecks off the Carolina coast or geocaching in Baltimore City. This expedition is always underway. The journey never ends.

How it all ended. As I'm sure you noticed, updates stopped about 50 miles from our final destination. There's a good reason for that. Fortunately, though the mighty truck was totaled, all passengers emerged unscathed. The adventure continues at The Forever Expedition: openexplorer.com/expedition/foreverex

Snow in coastal Virginia. We had almost 8 inches of snow out here. It was the perfect moment to take up my tiny little Hubsan x4 training drone. Note: the camera is fixed in the body of the bot, not on a gimbal, so it shakes when the wind blows.

So you want your own tether floats? One of the things I love about the open-source movement is that, as long as you have the right tools, anyone can produce the things you develop. Case in point: the OpenROV tether floats that I've been working on for the last month or so. Now that they're tested, iterated, and vetted, anyone can take the shape file and print their own (and you should!): youmagine.com/designs/openrov-tether-float I recognize that not everyone has access to a 3D printer and, over the last few weeks, several OpenROV users have asked me if there's a way I can send them some tether floats. I'm not set up to be a manufacturer (nor do I want to be) but I do want OpenROV users to have access to these little floats (which I believe are the best solution for managing tether buoyancy). Fortunately, OpenExplorer has a way forward that supports me continuing to develop cool tools for the OpenROV and provide a little support to the OpenExplorer platform. For every $4 you contribute to the Forever Expedition. I'll print out and send you 4 tether floats. The details: When you make a contribution, send me an email at southernfriedscientist at gmail, with your address and WePay transaction ID. If you want them sent out of the US, add an extra $5 for shipping. Unless there's a surprisingly large demand, I'd like to stick with multiples of four (that seems to be the most efficient arrangement for my printer). Color will be determined by whatever filament is loaded when I print, but if you order at least 12, I'll let you pick out the color (currently I have blue, green, and reddish-orange). At the moment, I'm only set up to print in PLA.

More tether floats! I've been plugging away on tether float designs for the last week and I'm finally at the point where I can confidently say that the Forever Expedition has produced the finest 3D printed tether floats available for the OpenROV. Let me talk a little bit about the problems we encountered with the first few iterations and what we fixed. If you'd rather just get some awesome new floats, go here: youmagine.com/designs/openrov-tether-float and download OpenROV tetherfloat v2. There were two related "performance" problems with the first design: 1. it was too buoyant and 2. it was bulky. How can too much buoyancy be a problem for something designed to make tethers float? One word: spacing. For neutral buoyancy, the old design needed to be spaced over 5 meters apart. This is great from an economy of materials perspective, but that meant that there was a long line of tether between floats. This line sags, drawing the floats together and creating a nice big loop to snag on things. Not great. The floats were also bulky, they created a lot of drag and could, snag on submerged objects themselves. These floats are supposed to make piloting easier, not harder. But there was an even bigger problem with these floats, they didn't print consistently. Because we're using only 20% infill on the printer, there's not a ton of supporting material for the final few solid layers (you want your floats to be mostly hollow, right?) The practical result of this was that the floats didn't print well in bulk on low-end printers--there were small gaps that let water in. What's better on the new floats? 1: Lower profile. Less chance of drag and snag. 2: Smaller. Easier to space out properly without getting a saggy tether. 3: Printable. Even in bulk, with no gaps. 4: Looks cooler. If that's the kind of thing that matters to you.

I'm still working on getting the print fidelity up for those of us with low-end consumer printers. After quite a few attempts where the quality is just not consistent, I'm going to go back to the drawing board and tweak the design so that it can be printed horizontally instead of vertically. This will probably involve changes to the wire slots but shouldn't change the buoyancy too much. Onward!

So printing out the 16 pack turned out to be a little too much for my little Printrbot. Too many transverse moves and too little adhesion on the footbed caused two of the 16 floats to pop off during the print. I'll leave the file up for those with a high end printer, but I'll also test and load a 9-pack this week.

After a long weekend tinkering, tweaking, and burning through just a ridiculous amount of filament, it's time for the grand unveiling. 3D printable tether floats! Sure, you can send your ROV down without tether floats. For short dives it's fine. But the more tether you pay out, the more it weighs down you robot. 100 meters of tether is a lot of weight for your robot to work against. And a tether dragging on the bottom is bad news. Not only does it slow you down, but it can get snagged on even small obstructions, making flying through murk water a pain. I got tired of using fishing bobbers to keep my tether up in the water column. They have a huge profile, create a ton of drag, and the metal hooks can cut into the tether's insulation, compromising the signal. It seemed foolish to keep using them. After looking around, unsuccessfully, for a better option, I figured "hey, why don't we just print some?" These tether floats are small, slot into your twisted pair tether, and are easy to remove. When printed correctly, they are watertight and pretty buoyant. In freshwater, 1 float per every 5.5 metes of tether will keep you neutral. In salt water, you can space them out even further, to 1 per every 5.7 meters. I like to keep the tether up and out of the robot's way, so make the first 10 meters of tether positive. Since there's no metal hooks to catch, your can trim your ballasting on the fly without fear of shredding your delicate cables. You can download the STL files from my Youmagine page here: youmagine.com/designs/openrov-tether-float *note, these have not been tested for long dives in cold water, yet. You should go for it!

A taste of what's in the works over at the Forever Expedition. We've got some 3D printed OpenROV tools on their way.

OpenROV Debrief: Live Vehicle Disentanglement While diving in Beaverdam Lake, ROV Independent Lee became entangled underneath a submerged log. Here, I walk you through the steps to fly your OpenROV out of an entanglement situation.

Rebuilding Tinz Lee As I mentioned earlier, I have three OpenROVs, a 2.6 and 2.7 which have done quite a bit of travelling at this point, and a Kickstarter 2.3, which has... not... left the box... or been completely assembled. Having now built quite a few OpenROVs, I've decided it's time for a challenge. I'm digging back into the old 2.3 to join an elite, exclusive group of explorers flying big blue, the original consumer OpenROV. She's going to need a lot of work. I want to keep it as close to stock as possible, with a few minor changes. I'm replacing the old power block with a marine distribution hub and swapping out the Molex connectors for DB15s. Other than that, I don't plan on changing much beyond what was shipped until I get her up and running. Until then, enjoy my frustration.

We took Colonial Lee out for one final dive in the cold waters of Beaufort, NC. Not much to see but there was a pretty strong current that the little bot performed admirably against.

There's something magical about finding your friend, Bathynomous giganteus hanging out in your old office.

Colonial Lee gets its first chance to dive in saltwater. Despite a small problem with responsiveness in the port thruster and some ballasting issues, Colonial Lee performed flawlessly. And, of course, you must respect the OpenROV prime directive: if there's a child nearby, you have to let them drive.

Finally back to my old stomping grounds after nearly 2 years away. Welcome to Beaufort, NC!

Great Dismal Swamp. On my way down to NC, I stopped at the Great DIsmal Swamp national park to stretch my legs. There's a great quarter-mile trail that wends through some scenic swamplands, just what I needed after two and a half hours in the car.

These are the droids we're looking for. Fleet of robots packed up and ready to explore coast NC.

Colonial Lee passes the soak test with flying colors! Next stop, coastal North Carolina!

The time has come to assemble OpenROV 2.7. Backstory: I built my first ROV in graduate school almost 5 years ago. It was a rough job, cobbled together with PVC and bilge pumps. It pulled a massive tether that fed a CCTV camera and drew power from the surface. In honor of my graduate school mentor, I named it Remote Lee. Since than, all my underwater robots have been puns ending in Lee. To commemorate our move to the Williamsburg area in rural Virginia ( #GoatsAcrossAmerica), the newest ROV will be Colonial Lee. She joins Remotely Lee, Tins Lee, and Independent Lee in our tiny robot fleet.

Read a bit more about Goats Across America in Modern Farmer! modernfarmer.com/2014/12/goat-trippin Final debrief coming in a few days.

The final stop. Almost there!

The final morning. We awoke to an awesome Sunday brunch at Penmerryl Farms, complete with 14 dogs joining us in the dining room. What an outstanding place to stay for our final night on the road.

In the mountains of western Virginia, in the town of Greenville, lies Edelweiss, an inexplicably authentic German restaurant. Complete with accordion player.

Checking in from beautiful Charleston, West Virginia.

Bunnies are fun travel companions.

We've spent a lot of time talking about the goats and how to travel with them, but our caprine companions aren't our only cargo. The rabbits also have to be cared for. Rabbits are quite a bit less demanding than goats. We still need to make sure our hotels are OK with small pets (Best Western is always a good option). We also need to keep the bunnies happy and healthy. So how do we keep them clean on a long trip? The rabbits spend almost all their time in a crate. We use dog pee pads to line it and absorb their business. A little hay on top keeps them full and comfortable. When we settle in for the night, we give them a few hours to run around. If they're really lucky, the entire room will be carpeted.

Back in Blue Grass. After a long haul through the endless corn fields, we've finally made it back to our home turf of the south east. Hello Kentucky! We're pleased to know you. We dropped the goats off at Stables and Sheets farm and backtracked to a nearby Best Western for human lodging. And now it's time for a true southern road trip tradition: Waffle House.

Last year I slept through the entire drive through southern Illinois and Indiana. This time I made a point to actually see these states.

At last, in St. Louis, we cross the mighty Mississippi.

Wagons East through the Gateway to the West!

The new normal. As we break out of another polar vortex-driven anomalous weather event, I'm thinking back the an article I wrote last year, Abnormal is the New Normal: southernfriedscience.com/?p=16477 In Kansas and Colorado we talked with several people who were as surprised by the weather as we were. It wasn't just a child night in the mountains. It was one of the coldest on record, and the coldest November 12 in Colorado history. Welcome to the new normal.

Good morning from Topeka, Kansas!

Our toilet is ice. How are you?

The goats wouldn't let us continue once they saw the biggest rock on I-70. So we let them climb.

What's the biggest challenge when traveling with goats? Hands down, it's food. People food. With both goats and rabbits, and a big trailer, there aren't a ton of options for eating. You can't leave the animals in the car (especially when temperatures are running sub-zero) and the trailer makes it hard to park in most places that don't cater to truckers. We usually get in too late to get the critters settled, the trailer unhitched, and roll back into town before last call. So, we're mostly stuck with road food. Tonight, we finally made it in with time to spare, so we're treating ourselves to pints and grub at the Blind Tiger brewpub in Topeka, Kansas.

Majestic windmills on the Colorado plains.

Good morning from Denver, where it is -15C right now.

Let it be known that crossing the Rockies in a blizzard is unwise. Safely in Denver.

Walking the goats at Dinosaur Hill. Hello, Colorado!

On becoming an automotive cyborg. We, at least those of us in the robot-building world, think a lot about the ways humans integrate with technology. From smartphones to Google glass to even more deeply embedded tech, we're constantly thinking about the ways that humans will interface with emergent technologies. One thing that driving across the country teaches you is how deeply we have already merged with 100 years of technology. Americans are Carborgs. We and our automobiles are cyborgs in a way that is more true to the meaning of the word than with any other piece of technology. We are trained to interface with it at an early age and use it to augment our own abilities: to run farther, faster; to carry more. So embedded are we in the carborg lifestyle that we have built our society and our infrastructure around it. Even if you, personally, are not integrated with the automotive matrix, you are dependent on it for food, for emergency response, for resource dissemination. Even the unintegrated are still carborg auxiliaries. I have driven the same vehicle for 14 years. I know its sounds, its vibrations. When I am behind the wheel, my truck is part of my nervous system. I feel changes in the engine as a tingle at the base of my neck. When towing a trailer up a steep hill, I feel it pull me, not through the RPM of the engine, but in my chest and legs, as if I were wearing a harness, dragging a load tethered to my own body. There's a moment, on exceptionally long drives, where you no longer need to check the gauges, you just feel the car, an extension of yourself. You are a cyborg, so thoroughly integrated that you don't even notice the fusion of flesh and steel. At that moment, you have come closer to achieving the dream of cybernetic idealists than with any other piece of technology, and you did it unconsciously.

Remember paper maps? There are still large chunks of the US without data coverage. Sometimes the intrepid traveler still needs to shut off the smart phone and check in with their trusty atlas. For expedition planning, we're using the National Geographic Adventure Edition. Great maps and more off-highway recreation stops than you ever knew you wanted.

It's about time to roll out. Next stop, Colorado!

Do your goats ever escape? Yes. Goats are natural escape artists and will take any opportunity to explore new and potentially delicious foliage. When we lived in North Carolina, these two had a habit of waiting until we left for work, sneaking out under a seemingly sturdy section of fence, and spending the day playing with the neighborhood kids. They would sneak back into the yard whenever they heard the sound of my truck or Amy's car. Side note, they know what our vehicles sound like. They can even tell the difference between my Durango and the neighbor's Durango. We didn't even know they were getting out until a hurricane knocked out the fence completely and we had to replace it. Suddenly, a flock of 6 to 8 year olds was at our door asking us to let the goats back out. So, this morning they snuck out the barn and I had the joy of chasing them through the Utah brush. How did I catch them? By opening the door to their favorite place in the world: my truck.

At Oak Hills you can watch your four-legged friends play from the comfort of their viewing lounge.

Good morning from Oak Hills Stables!

Note: we're home after an exceptional 3 weeks of work in Papua New Guinea. Sadly, the course was so intense that we weren't able to produce updates during the program. Instead, please accept these time-shifted updates from #ROV2PNG. After more than a week of building robots, developing research proposals, presenting and defending their proposals to the class, and refine their methodology, it’s finally time to enter the field, sending our small fleet of robots out to explore marine ecosystems around Kavieng in New Ireland Province. The fantastic student projects include: a survey of hard coral coverage around Nago Island to assess reef health; an assessment of garbage dumping around the Kavieng marketplace and other related areas; a test to determine if the electromagnetic fields of the OpenROV might attract sharks; a study of seagrass distribution and abundance of related seagrass species; a survey of seastars around Nago and Nusa islands; and an assessment of commercially important sea cucumber species in Kavieng Lagoon. All in all,an impressive array of diverse and challenging projects. And these projects were challenging. Students weren’t just learning new fieldwork skills, they also needed to master flying the ROVs. Navigating through the rough surf, maintaining a straight and stable heading, controlling depth, recording video, watching for passing boats, and taking copious notes were all required of these 3 to 5 person teams. They rose to the challenge, fixing robots in the field, adapting their sampling design to account for changes in the weather and unforeseen obstacles in the sea. The robots were not without their own problems. One robot flooded and needed a rebuild, others lost access to their IMUs (the internal sensor bank which feeds environmental data to the operator), some got tangled and needed a manual rescue. But after 3 days of heavy use, all six ROVs returned battered, but functional. We ended class on the last day with student presentations. Each group presented their results, an impressive display of tenacity, teamwork, curiosity, and adaptability, the heart of what field science is about.

Just because it was the dead of night didn't mean we weren't going to stop at the Salt Flats for a scenic stretch.

Just a couple of napping goats.

I think it's pretty safe to say that triple-trailer trucks are intimidating.

Before hitting the road, we took a 4 mile hike into fossil country, on the search for ammonites. None found, this time.

Good morning! Driving across 40 miles of rough, unpaved rural roads provided the perfect shakedown conditions for our towing rig. A thorough examination of both vehicles revealed no anomalies or exceptional points of concern. On a big trek like this, you need to check you fluids, breaks, and other wear-and-tear parts every day.

Hello Nevada! We cruised through Donner Pass and into Nevada earlier today. Our first stop is a very special one. Last year, on the reverse of this trip, we made a desperate stop at the Pioneer Garden Inn, far off the beaten path in the middle of the state. It was so delightful that we made a point to come back on this expedition. After a harrowing 40 miles of unpaved back roads, we limped into the inn, exhausted and ready for some wine and sleep. This is no ordinary bed and breakfast. Nestled in one of Nevada's abandoned silver mining towns, the Inn is really a series of full sized guest houses, with a central dining area and barn. It also contains ssome truly excellent fossil beds, where visitors can hunt for ammonites on the grounds. You don't need to board livestock in order to stay here. Anyone passing through Nevada should add the Old Pioneer Garden Inn in Unionville to their list of stops.

Between the barn-truck and the rolling greenhouse, this trek looks to be positively hillbillie. Wagons East!

The other passengers. Oh yeah, in addition to the animals, Amy's car has been transformed into a jungle. Herbs, fruit, veggies, and carnivorous plants.

Note: we're home after an exceptional 3 weeks of work in Papua New Guinea. Sadly, the course was so intense that we weren't able to produce updates during the program. Instead, please accept these time-shifted updates from #ROV2PNG. With a week of robot building behind us, it’s time to put our robots, and our newly minted robot pilots to the test. Monday began with a day of tether management and pilot training. The OpenROV does not come with its own, pre-built tether management system; operators must design their own and adapt it to the unique challenges of their field environment. So we set the team off to develop their own tether management systems and the results were astounding, artistic, and clever. With tethers securely managed, it was time for Erika’s Pilot Academy. As some teams continued to perform maintenance and troubleshooting, and some worked on their ecology projects, others were led, group by group, to the test tank, where Erika and Dominik had built a challenge course for them to fly. Without looking at the tank or robot, each student had to pilot an ROV around the tank, collect a weighted target, and bring it to the surface. Even for veteran OpenROV pilots, this exercise can be challenging. We closed out the first day of pilot training with 23 skilled pilots. Salt water testing began the next morning, as each group, now divided into their ecology teams rather than their ROV build teams, set up their command center at one of three stations around the island. Instructors sat back, allowing the students to go through the complete pre-dive start-up routine, unaided. We felt tremendous pride as, one-by-one, each robot entered the waters and navigated around the reef, sand flats, and seagrass beds. Though we found a few bugs in a couple of robots, all were able to perform in salt water without failure. And that’s a good thing, because that afternoon, we began the final phase of the program: ecology projects.

Papers please? You can't just load up a truck with goats and head east. Different states play host to a variety of different livestock diseases, and a rogue goat, left unchecked, can spread dangerous viruses across the country. Step one for any backyard farmer looking to make the great migration is to visit your friendly, neighborhood large animal vet for a checkup and travel papers. Plan you appointment carefully, since some states only permit a 10-day window on health checks. Most good horse hotels will ask for travel papers and some states (California especially) will stop you at the border to check your goats' paperwork. A quick trip to the vet a day or two before departure can also serve as a good dry-run of your goat transportation system.

How do you move cross country with goats? Where do you stay? I'll let you in on a secret. This ain't our first rodeo. Last year, Amy and I moved from North Carolina to San Francisco. We drove across the country. And we brought our goats. The learning curve was steep, but we figured out how to get it all done. Our biggest mistake had nothing to do with the goats. Our biggest mistake was shipping Amy's car and towing a UHaul loaded with all our stuff. We've learned (and, no longer fresh out of grad school, saved enough cash that we don't have to default to the cheapest option). This time, we're shipping our stuff and towing the car. Onwards to the goats. By far, the most common question we get, from both curious friends and fellow backyard farmers who see themselves facing the same challenge, is "where do you stay? It's not like there's a secret network of hotels that cater to livestock or anything?" There is a secret network of hotels that cater to livestock. They're called horse motels, and they're primarily for people travelling to show their horses. A quick Google will turn up at least one or two in every state, usually along major highways. They range from barns with lofts to full service bed and breakfasts (for you and your four legged friends). With a little planning you can span America while spending every night in comfort and security for you and your goats. If you can't quite make it to a horse motel, you can always graze your animals and pitch a tent in a National Forest and some National Parks. Pictured: our first horse motel, in West Virginia.

Four days from today, Amy and I are loading up our trusty truck and driving across the country. But this is no ordinary road trip, because the two of us come complete with a pair of feisty Nigerian dwarf goats, who will be riding in the back seat for a 3,000 mile journey from the San Francisco Bay to the shores of the Chesapeake. Fortunately, they'll be kept company by a pair of rabbits. Join us as we travel across America, visiting national landmarks, fossil fields, and the special hotels you only see when you're travelling with livestock. #GoatsAcrossAmerica

Note: we're home after an exceptional 3 weeks of work in Papua New Guinea. Sadly, the course was so intense that we weren't able to produce updates during the program. Instead, please accept these time-shifted updates from #ROV2PNG. After a long week of intensive robot building, six brand new OpenROVs went into the water on Friday. Our student’s hard work paid off as their robots dove into the freshwater test tank. There are few things more rewarding than watching students, who’ve sweated over a difficult build while learning challenging new skills for 12 hours or more every day, launch their completed robots drive them around the test tank for the first time. Of course, failure is part of our pedagogy, and two robots will require another day of troubleshooting before they can be released into the sea. Friday also marked the first milestone for the student ecology projects. Each student took to the stage to present their research proposal to the class. From 23 excellent projects, the instructors narrowed it down to six proposals that will be developed into full research projects and implemented over the next week. After carefully deliberations, we picked the six that best fit into the limitations of a week long course and take advantage of the OpenROVs’ capabilities. This week, we’ll explore the diversity and distribution of commercial sea cucumbers in Kavieng lagoon, the effect of electromagnetic fields on sharks offshore, habitat structure of seagrass beds around Nago Island, impacts of marine debris around Kavieng town, abundance of hard coral coverage on local reefs, and temporal variability of sea stars in nearshore regions. We’re looking forward to another exciting week of marine ecology via remote observation on Nago Island!

Note: Cross-posted from Southern Fried Science: southernfriedscience.com/?p=17807 Hello from the warm, sunny island of Nago, home of the National Fisheries College field station and staging ground for Marine Ecology via Remote Observation, part of the Marine Science Short Course. My team and I arrived in Port Morseby on Friday, where we met with Jamie on her way home and and caught up with my former student, now lecturer at UPNG, Freddie Alei, who joins us for the next week of class. Another day of travel brought us to the shores of Nusa Island. We had our first chance to meet the students on Sunday, during a walk around the local beach, followed by an afternoon flying Independent Lee, one of our demonstration robots, from the Fisheries’ jetty. It was a nice warm up for an intensive week of robotics and marine ecology. There are two major components to the #ROV2PNG portion of the Marine Science Short Course. The first, and most visible, is the construction and operation of the OpenROV, an open-source underwater robot that is incredibly adaptable and expandable. Over the last three days, students have learned how to solder, weld acrylic, test electronics, use epoxy resins, and work together to assemble the chassis, endcaps, battery tubes, motors, and brain of the robot. Excitement is mounting as we approach the moment when we can power up the ROVs for the first time. Mid-day on the third day of building, as the robots began to look more like ROVs and less like piles of components, was the perfect moment to hold a naming ceremony. Each robot was christened with a Tok Pisin name. In a few days, Rasta Pis (octopus), NilPis (a local fish), Pismeri (mermaid), Meri Niuailan (woman from New Ireland), Iauro (slang for 'it's all good'), and Solwara (salt water) will dive for the first time. We ran the numbers, and on dive day, these six robots, combined with Indy, Phantom, and Thunder, will be the largest deployment of OpenROV’s in the field, ever. Our group has taken to the slogan “failure is part of our pedagogy.” We want our students to complete this class not only with the knowledge to build and fly these robots, but also with the confidence to fix and troubleshoot problems as they arise. There’s only one way to teach that kind of adaptive, practical troubleshooting: stuff has to break. We’ve already overcome a few hurdles. Students have seen Dominik recover and repair a completely flooded OpenROV. Erika has pressed her robot, Phantom, into service, using parts of the chassis and end caps to replace components from the students kits. Independent Lee has become the course display model, being assembled and disassembled numerous times to demonstrate specific components and techniques. In addition to building the robots, students also need the skills to use them as serious tools for marine ecological studies. Over the next week, students are developing, writing, and presenting grant proposals, both as individuals and in groups, to use the robots they’re building to study the marine environment around New Ireland. Discussions about writing marine ecology grants by myself are complemented by lectures on marine ecology, biodiversity, and community-supported ecology by Dr. Augustine Mungkaje, Dr. Amy Freitag, and Freddie Alei. All of which is in addition to a week of marine invertebrate zoology by Duke University graduate student Jamie Wagner. As the robots come online and the class moves forward, we will transition from an intensive engineering class to an advanced field ecology course, with robots becoming the work horses for a series of novel investigations into the marine environment around New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. For an entertaining summary of the first week of the course, check out William Saleu's update: http://www.cares.nautilusminerals.com/Assets/Documents/MSSC%202014Blog%202final.pdf

Erika "Echo" Bergman teaches kids to fly her OpenROV, Phantom, in Port Moresby.

Oh the gear you'll bring. We're getting our gear prepped and ready at the Thaler homestead. Here's what just Andrew is packing for this epic adventure. From Left to right, top to bottom: 1. Indy, and everything she needs to fly. 2. My old Blundy steel-toed boots (perfect for travel). 3. (behind the camera) A surprise for out PNG collaborators. 4. More surprises for our PNG collaborators. 5. Keen sandals for everyday wear in the South Pacific. 6. My camera. 7. Passport et al. 8. A Hubsan microdrone, and everything we need to fly it. Good for quick and dirty aerial video. 9. Rainbow flip flops. Cool. Casual. 10. International power converter. 11. Case full of cords, chargers, and e-gizmos. 12. Camera charger. 13. Assorted bits for the ROV kits. 14. Flash drives. So many flashdrives. 15. Extra bag. For putting things in. 16. USB headset. For Skype/recording. 17. Syllabus and clipboard. For the classy, professorial look. 18. Gear bag. I've be schlepping this old REI monster across the planet for 15 years now. Tough. 19. OpenROV beenie. For opportunistic Life Aquatic moments. 20. USB charger. 21. Kindle. 22. Rechargeable batteries/USB charger. Also great for travel. 23. Go Pro Hero 3. For awesome. 24. Desiccant packs. For fog free viewing. 25. Power strip. For power. 26. Socks. For my feet. 27. Toiletries. For things other than my feet. 28. Foldy waterbottle. 29. Marine ecology textbook and notebooks. Sophisticated. Also, the best pens ever. Ask Karyn. 30. Cubes of clothes. I love cubes of clothes. (5 tshirts, 5 pair underwear, 3 shorts, 4 collared shorts. I'll wear my fancier shake-hands-with-diplomats duds on the plane). 31. A mysterious black bag... full of water quality probes. It wouldn't be a marine ecology class without a hand refractometer. 32. Raincoat. 33. Ditty bag with compass, flashlights, spork, headlamp, paracord. The basics. 34. First aid kit. 35. Travel pillow. And that's it*! *except for all the other stuff we will inevitably bring.

We're exploring the possibilities and connectivity of the Bay, starting with running a WiFi beacon to the top of the dirt pile outside of OpenROV headquarters. We're heading out on an inflatable boat to Alcatraz, where we hope to someday fly an ROV. But first, we have to figure out how to talk to the people and robot on the boat.

Checking in after a week of prep. The vast bulk of our gear is on it's way out to Papua New Guinea and we're prepping the last few additions to Indy to get her ready to go. We has two big pushes this week: 1. Finishing the lesson plans for the ecology/biodiversity portions of our class and 2. get the list of additional needs finalized. Even with several months of planning and prep, there's always a few small bits of gear that slip through the cracks, which is why we did a full run-through of the ROV build process and a couple of field tests here. Simple things like desiccant packs, or nice-but-not-necessary components like vacuum pumps and ESC programmers are very easy to overlook. When prepping for an expedition of this size and complexity, sometimes the best thing you can do is simulate the entire process and take careful notes of each and every tool and consumable used. Compared to all that, putting together a week's worth of lesson plans is simple. Have you seen the new OpenROV website (www.openrov.com)? It's beautiful. Below is a .gif of a waving seal at Point Reyes, just for fun.

Diving Lassen Volcanic National Park, Part II. We couldn't resist dropping Indy in the incredibly clear, volcanic Lake Helen for a short dive on our way out of the park.

Diving Lassen Volcanic National Park. With Independent Lee ("Indy") ready to dive, Amy and I took a road trip out to Lassen Volcanic National Park for some freshwater diving. After a mile-long hike in, we launched Indy in Manzanita Lake to see what we could find. Lots of lake plants, but not much else as it turns out. Indy performed perfectly, with only a few minor issues. She's not quite balanced in the water yet, the housing fogs up in cold water, and the white batteries reflect the high-intensity LEDs back into the camera, creating flares.

In 1946, Jacques Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan released the Aqualung, forever changing the way humans interact with the oceans. No longer tethered to the surface, entombed in thick, restrictive helmets, we could dive deeper, stay down longer, and explore the dark places snorkelers and free divers feared to fin. The Aqualung opened up the ocean to an entirely new cohort. Ocean exploration, once the domain of well-resourced scientists, career explorers, and the wealthy elite, was now within the reach of the global middle class. Buoyed by the Aqualung, Marine Science exploded. Marine life could be studied alive and in situ. Behavior could be observed rather than inferred from the stressed and shredded samples of a trawl. The ranks of marine biologists, oceanographers, and explores swelled to numbers that began to gradually approach the relative significance of the ocean to the living world. We’re just getting started. Marine science is on the brink of the greatest sea change since JYC and Gagnan introduced the Aqualung to the world. In the last 3 years, the OpenROV has evolved from a humble Kickstarter kit to a powerful platform for democratizing science and removing barriers to ocean exploration. Beyond the low cost, which places OpenROV comfortably within the reach of even the most resource-limited organizations, the innovative software package can allow students, instructors, and explorers to access and drive an OpenROV from anywhere that internet is available. The closest competitor, the well-designed, yet expensive, Videoray Scout costs nearly 6 times as much and the complete package tips the scales at more than 70 pounds. I’ve driven both and OpenROV, though it demands a more experienced operator, is the more versatile robot. It’s not until you begin comparisons with major, science-class ROV’s—ROV Isis, Jason II, and the lost ROV Nereus—that you begin to surpass the experience of flying OpenROV. OpenROV is only one facet of the growing Maker movement, harnessing human ingenuity and the desire for discovery to create tools to explore our world. The next century of marine exploration will be defined not by the research goals of the major institutions, but by the curiosity of an increasingly well-resourced maker community. The OpenROV is ready to enter the scientific arena. After several years of hardware and software development, the tough little robot is ready to make a big splash in marine exploration, conservation, management, and even basic science. We’re putting OpenROV to the test. Not all institutions have access to ocean-class oceanographic vessels or multi-million dollars ROVs. Not all research questions can be answered using the narrow limits of a conventional SCUBA system. Not everyone who wants to explore the oceans can swim. We want to tackle the simple question: Can the OpenROV fill a critical equipment gap in marine science and conservation, particularly in regions with limited access to essential resources. To answer this question, we want to get the OpenROV into the hands of its core scientific users, early-career marine scientists, managers, and ocean explorers whose needs cannot necessarily be met by conventional marine ecologic studies. We’re taking OpenROV to Papua New Guinea. This October, I’m leading a small team of marine ecologists, engineers, and explorers to New Ireland, where we’ll meet up with colleagues and students from the University of Papua New Guinea and the University of the South Pacific. As part of the successful Marine Science Short Course program, we’ll spend almost three weeks running a workshop on Marine Ecology via Remote Observation, where students will not only learn how to use the OpenROV to conduct research, but will build OpenROV’s from scratch, becoming experienced OpenROV technicians as they gain familiarity with the inner workings of these small but powerful robots. The vibrant reefs surrounding Kavieng provide the perfect backdrop for participants to test the capabilities of their new robots and hone their piloting skills as they develop and implement their own ROV-based research project. The 6 ROVs built during the course, as well as all supporting hardware, will remain in Papua New Guinea, a permanent resource for Papua New Guinean ecologists. This course represent both a tremendous challenge and opportunity for everyone involved. I genuinely believe that tools like OpenROV are going to play a pivotal role in the next century of marine science, conservation, and exploration. We’re just rising over the first wave of a long journey into the deep blue sea. How can you get involved? We’re not committing to any real-time outreach. The combination of unreliable internet connection and the shear intensity of running this course over barely three weeks means that both our bandwidth and our time will be limited. You can follow along with our preparation on the #ROV2PNG hashtag and we will attempt to provide updates here and through our expedition on OpenExplorer (an entirely separate revolution in citizen exploration). You can follow our team members on Twitter: @SFriedScientist, @BomaiCruz, @Erika_Bergman, @CodewithPassion, and @bgrassbluecrab (if small updates can be posted, they’ll be posted there).

Building Independent Lee. As part of our preparation for the course, Amy and I had Erika and Dominik lead us through a complete ROV build, from start to finish. The final product, our own OpenROV, the Independent Lee, which will travel to PNG with us to ensure that we have at least a couple out-of-the-box and ready to fly robots.

Expeditions Following