Skip to main content

The Aalto Explorer drone lets people explore under the sea using VR

The second generation Find-X underwater drone, overseen by project manager Manuel Rosales. Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’ve ever wanted to experience life beneath the waves without getting your feet wet, now’s your chance. A project called the Aalto Explorer will let members of the public get a first-person view from an underwater drone using virtual reality. At IFA 2019, Digital Trends spoke with Aalto Explorer team member Annie Tran about the project and the team’s plans to get more people interested in the oceans.

The Aalto Explorer consists of an underwater drone, or remotely operated vehicle (ROV), called the Find-X. The team recently built a third-generation prototype ROV that can go deeper than previous versions. The previous ROV could travel only to a depth of 50 meters, but the new version can go all the way down to 100 meters. The current ROV is preparing to launch in a few days with a dive into the Baltic Sea near Finland, where the company is based.

On each “expedition,” there are three roles for participants: Captain, passenger, and researcher. The captain steers the ROV and chooses which direction to move in, while passengers observe and researchers collect data. The participants form a “crew” that can communicate with each other as if they were traveling together, even if they’re located on opposite sides of the world.

Crew members can use the ROV’s 360-degree camera to see under the water and a keyboard and mouse to control the view. But for a truly immersive experience, the visuals from the ROV can be sent to a VR headset, giving crewmembers a first-person perspective of exploring the ocean’s depths.

A youngster tries out the Aalto Explorer VR. Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s a clever system for recharging the ROV: An inflatable module that floats on top of the water and acts as a platform. The module has a solar panel that passes on energy from the sun to the ROV. The platform also has a 5G connection to beam data from the ROV to the computers of crew members around the world.

Tran told us that the primary aim of the project is education, as the concept began as a university project. The team wants to get children interested in the ocean, as well as offer a unique opportunity for adults to play at being a ship’s captain. But there’s a role for serious researchers as well, as oceanographers who don’t have the budget for their own undersea mission can come along on trips to collect information about the water around the ROV, including pH, pressure, temperature, and salinity. As the ROV explores, researchers can see data in real time in the software interface.

The team wants to expand the project to build five of the new ROVs, each to explore a different ocean, so they are currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
This AI cloned my voice using just three minutes of audio
acapela group voice cloning ad

There's a scene in Mission Impossible 3 that you might recall. In it, our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) tackles the movie's villain, holds him at gunpoint, and forces him to read a bizarre series of sentences aloud.

"The pleasure of Busby's company is what I most enjoy," he reluctantly reads. "He put a tack on Miss Yancy's chair, and she called him a horrible boy. At the end of the month, he was flinging two kittens across the width of the room ..."

Read more
Digital Trends’ Top Tech of CES 2023 Awards
Best of CES 2023 Awards Our Top Tech from the Show Feature

Let there be no doubt: CES isn’t just alive in 2023; it’s thriving. Take one glance at the taxi gridlock outside the Las Vegas Convention Center and it’s evident that two quiet COVID years didn’t kill the world’s desire for an overcrowded in-person tech extravaganza -- they just built up a ravenous demand.

From VR to AI, eVTOLs and QD-OLED, the acronyms were flying and fresh technologies populated every corner of the show floor, and even the parking lot. So naturally, we poked, prodded, and tried on everything we could. They weren’t all revolutionary. But they didn’t have to be. We’ve watched enough waves of “game-changing” technologies that never quite arrive to know that sometimes it’s the little tweaks that really count.

Read more
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.
[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
Relumino Mode, as it’s called, works by adding a bunch of different visual filters to the picture simultaneously. Outlines of people and objects on screen are highlighted, the contrast and brightness of the overall picture are cranked up, and extra sharpness is applied to everything. The resulting video would likely look strange to people with normal vision, but for folks with low vision, it should look clearer and closer to "normal" than it otherwise would.
Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

Read more