Skip to main content

Futurist: Wandering (and Improving) Tethered Drones (Remotely Operated Vehicles)!

I am a long-time Futurist, and technologist. In my career, I have spanned the birth of personal computers, to the rise of Cloud Computing.

Getting ready to launch our ROV!

Getting ready to launch our ROV!

Good news - it is not an article about smart cameras. it is about underwater cameras though.

I should start this article with a simple statement. I truly enjoy the world of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and drones. I've had drones that you can fly with your phone, drones that you can fly with a yoke. I found that I do significantly better with a rig (yoke) than when using my phone. I just am not coordinated enough to fly well using my phone. Honestly underwater or remotely operated drones, or sometimes they are called tethered drones, interest me. Both of the ones I have at this point were originally on kick starter. The goal of a remotely operated vehicle is to see underwater. That means the unit has to have a light. And, of course, a camera since you're not down there with it. The better the camera is at low lux better your underwater pictures. Then I want to dive into the concept of what could improve remotely operated vehicles, or what is sometimes called tethered drones for underwater use.


The first thing is a camera. You are wanting to see what is underwater. The better the camera is in lowlight situations, the better you'll be able to see what is under the water's surface. But you don't need to operate a remotely operated vehicle to see what is at the bottom of Clearwater. In that situation, clearwater, you can see the bottom. You're using a remotely operated vehicle in a situation where the water is murky. Murky is such great work. It just means dirty, but it sounds better. It was a dark and stormy night, and our hero was searching the murky water for signs of life. It sounds like the start of every great American novel, but that isn't the function today. Rather the camera is critical. The advantage you have with a tethered, remotely operated vehicle is that you don't have to worry about bandwidths. You have to worry about not getting the cable tangled in logs or other underwater debris.


People often ask me why I can't a remotely operated vehicle use Wi-Fi; Wi-Fi doesn't penetrate water very well. Neither does Bluetooth, and frankly, neither does a cellular signal. The wire makes it easier to keep the device connected. You don't want your remotely operated vehicle wandering off on its own. The tether then becomes important, and one of the things that I've noticed is the reality of those tethers today. It's a manual process to wind and unwind the rope, virtually making the operation a two-person job. An automated tether winding system would be of significant value. It wouldn't have to be big, and it could be battery-operated. It would need to be a smart system, however. You would not want to lose your vehicle because the motor reeling in the rope didn't stop when there was a tug on the line. So your automatic system would require the ability to switch to manual quickly. The first tug on the line and the system should automatically switch to manual so you can gently move the rope. Or move your boat so you can remove the blockage. If you aren't in a boat, so you can move along the shore to lease your ROV!

Launching our ROV

Launching our ROV

A couple of recommendations for tethered drones!

In shallow water would be nice to have a light on the top of the unit that you could turn on when the ROV is stuck. But that would require that you have a boat you could get right over it. I guess you have to worry about lakes and ponds with high silt. Silk is what causes murky water. When it's thick enough, the engines end up getting caked around the propeller blades, and the ROV becomes slower. Some of the newer remotely operated vehicles can reverse the propeller direction, and in that, you can clear any silt blockage.

I'll end with a couple of recommendations, things that I've learned. Let's start with me, I know I'm not coordinated, and I don't do well with either cell phone or tablet-operated remotely operated vehicles. I do much better with a yoke. I would strongly recommend that you try both before committing to one or the other. I know people that are extremely good at operating things with their cell phones, that struggle with the concepts of moving remotely operated vehicles underwater with their cell phones. It isn't always as easy as it seems. It does take a lot of practice. But again, recommendation one figure out if you prefer a yoke or are comfortable operating your device with your cell phone or tablet. Even if you operate it with you, you'll still send the video to your cell phone.

The recommendation makes sure that the remotely operated vehicle you purchase or borrow from a friend can share the video. Not being able to share that video becomes somewhat problematic. After all, you can't show people what you found underwater. We were not talking about the kinds of remotely operated vehicles to survey the Titanic rack. But still, you might find a cool hubcap at the bottom of the lake.

The world of tethered drones is expanding, and anytime a market expands, the prices go down. Some of the original units cost $2000-$3000, but now you can get a pretty good remotely operated vehicle for the type of water you want to look around in for around $1000. As we end this piece, one last recommendation is to make sure you know what type of water you will use the ROV in. Freshwater is simple, and honestly, you don't have an impact on the device. However, if you can use it in salt water, you must ensure that the seals and baffles are replaceable. Saltwater can be corrosive. So you want to replace those; otherwise, after one or two uses, your tether drone will no longer be usable.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 DocAndersen

Related Articles