We have explored space so much that we know that the observable universe is 92 billion light-years wide (1 light year is equivalent to 5.88 trillion miles). However, back on Earth, we have limited knowledge of our own oceans, which cover about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. Some reports state that we have mapped a mere five percent of the ocean floor. But thanks to new marine technology, that could all change.
Trident, an underwater drone made by startup company OpenROV, is selling drones that can go underwater, showing that deep-sea exploration isn’t just for people with money like multimillionaire film director James Cameron. Cameron explored the deepest point in the ocean, the Marianas Trench, which is 35,814 feet deep, back in 2012.
The current OpenROV kits retail for around $900, making it an option for those who want to explore the world’s oceans. However, Trident is unique because it can move at about 4.4 miles per hour — slow on land, but faster than most underwater vehicles and several sea creatures, such as a goldfish. While it travels in a straight line, it can also turn quickly and fit in tight spaces. One model was tested with a PlayStation controller hooked up to a PC monitor, which could make for an interesting interaction with the sea below.
Trident’s quickness and precision could create a new market for underwater exploration. The drone can hover over objects and change depth or direction without pitching. Additionally, the drone can stream live video during explorations, and there is even talk of OpenROV equipping the Trident with a virtual reality unit, so you can feel like you are actually there in the ocean with it. One space that OpenROV states that it can work well in is the classroom. “Imagine a teacher in the future using this in class and all the kids can put on their Google VR headsets and see different things around the ocean,” said David Lang, co-founder of OpenROV.
The race to the (literal) bottom has a few challenges, however. The Trident is only able to reach 100 meters (about 328 feet) below the ocean surface, while the average depth of the ocean is approximately 3,688 meters (12,100 feet). In addition, radio waves are unable to travel through water, so the Trident is still tethered to the surface for live video streaming. However, improvements in technology could see future iterations of Trident travel deeper into the unknown. One area in particular that should be taken into account is the increasing pressure that is experienced when one goes deeper into the ocean.
Several analysts, reporters and scientists praised the Trident project as helping people explore 65 percent of the world that is still unknown to humankind. “It’s such a cool idea! It should be in every hardware store,” said Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist who was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Geographic’s explorer-in-residence since 1998. Earle won a TED Prize in 2009 for her advocacy of ocean exploration and preservation.
The Trident ROV is planned to retail at around $1,199, which is great news for the explorer in all of us. With a fairly reasonable price for this type of technology, Trident is an accessible gateway for innovation and deep sea exploration.