New Milestones! (Trident Kickstarter Update #12)

Original post : April 30, 2016

Hello everyone! This update is particularly exciting to write because there is A LOT of new stuff to report. Let’s just cut to the chase and show you some photos of our newest mechanical prototype that just came in:

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Trident Prototype

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We’re very proud of how everything is turning out, and we hope to integrate our electronics with this model to do flight testing very soon. In addition to the industrial design work that we’ve done, some of Trident’s physical properties have also evolved. For one, we’ve increased the size and weight of the vehicle slightly to accommodate higher-density batteries and a stronger shell material. The new general dimensions of Trident are 410mm long by 205mm wide by 85mm tall, with a displacement of 3.5kg. These changes have allowed Trident to be even more solid than before while still keeping the vehicle light enough to carry in a backpack or as handheld luggage. We’ve added cavities for trim weights on the bottom of the vehicle so that it can be weighted for either fresh or seawater depending on whether the plates inserted are plastic or stainless steel (both will be included). You’ll notice that the hole pattern for external payloads no longer includes the aftmost hole as we determined that it wasn’t necessary and including it would require us to make the tail section taper in a way that took away from its hydrodynamics as well as its aesthetics.

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Bottom Features of Trident

We’ve done a lot of work to make sure that the communication method with external payloads mounted on Trident is robust, capable, and easy to use. I’m pleased to say that we’ve certainly achieved that through a concept we’ve developed that may seem a bit unusual. We’ve added a WiFi radio to Trident’s internal electronics which will allow payloads to communicate at high speeds while maintaining complete electrical isolation from the vehicle. This idea probably seems a bit strange- as you know, WiFi does not travel long distances through water- but it can go several centimeters at high bandwidths. We’ve experimented with this connection method and we’re really happy with the results. Connecting to payloads this way reduces risk to Trident’s core electrical system (payloads will have their own power source), and allows users to connect to the ever growing list of off-the-shelf devices with integrated WiFi such as GoPro cameras, data loggers, and embedded computers. We are currently working on extending our plugin architecture to support this system, and we’ll publish more about how to integrate with our WiFi interface in the next few months.

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3D printed GoPro mount attached to Trident's external payload holes

We’ve also been working on Trident’s Radio Buoy. As you will recall from our Kickstarter campaign, we’ve wanted to design a floating WiFi system that can be towed along the surface by Trident as it moves through the water. The ability to wirelessly connect to this buoy will allow Trident to run transects without requiring impractical amounts of tether management. We’ve also designed the buoy to sit nicely on a flat surface (such as a table or the deck of a boat) and there is a securing hole in the back of it so that it doesn't accidentally get pulled away if the tether is tugged. Range of this buoy is extremely dependent on external factors such as what WiFi system is being used, how much local RF noise there is, and how heavy the seas are, but preliminary tests have been promising. Even in the San Francisco Bay, where there is a tremendous amount of radio noise, we were able to tow the buoy 40-50m offshore and return to home without difficulty. We’re still working on refining the industrial design for the Radio Buoy, but we’ve attached a few images of a prototype we’ve been playing with.

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Prototype Radio Buoy attached to early Trident Prototype
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Piloting Trident through a WiFi connection to the Radio Buoy
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Radio Buoy being pulled through the water. It is designed to be stable even in rough seas

One more thing about the buoy! We’ve decided it would be worth it to throw in a little bonus: the Radio Buoy will now come with a built in GPS receiver. This will allow pilots to log the location and the general path of their dives. The system may even be able to approximate the location of the ROV itself using knowledge of the tether length, depth, and trajectory history. Using computational capabilities built into the wireless router on the buoy, we've also been able to send the GPS data stream directly into the ROV's network connection, so this information will be available in the Cockpit interface just like the telemetry coming from the ROV. Of course, there are many possibilities for other things that can be done with GPS data through software, and we hope developers in our community will enjoy having this extra feature to use for custom control and course planning software.

On the software side of things there is also a lot of progress to report. We now have native in-browser video recording working so you can record your dive on your computer without any additional software. This recording feature works very well even with the relatively high bandwidth of our HD camera. The video you capture will play back with just as much fidelity and smoothness as when you were watching it live. Additionally, we have a beta version of our live streaming software working which will allow internet-connected users to share their dive with the world as it happens. Here’s a recording we made with a 2-Series OpenROV a few weeks ago while diving on a shipwreck at night. An impressive thing to note about this video is that the recording was done on a computer connected to the ROV through an internet connection hosted by a cell phone.

Finally, we’ve been racing ahead with our mobile/touch screen control interface. In a recent dive at Lake Tahoe, we used our live streaming software to telecast a dive to the TV in our cabin, far away from the dive site, while also controlling the ROV remotely from a mobile phone. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to drive the ROV using touch controls. We are really excited by how straightforward it will be to do sophisticated deployments with very simple and portable equipment.

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Piloting Trident using touch controls on a smartphone (via remote network connection). Also streaming live video to a flatscreen TV.

It’s been an incredible journey. We continue to be amazed and inspired by how many people want to use our design to do incredible things. There has been a lot of push to add additional features to Trident and it takes a tremendous amount of self-control to stay focused on staying the course toward the most solid core design possible that can be delivered on time and on budget. That being said, some of these features (integrated GPS, increased ruggedness, more powerful computational capabilities, sophisticated communication with external payloads, etc.) were just too good to pass up. As a result of the development we’ve been able to do, we’re increasing the retail price of Trident from $1,199 to $1,499 to add these enhanced features to the stock design, and we will be announcing these change in our store very soon. For Kickstarter backers (anyone reading this update), that means you’ll be getting more for what you paid for. All of these new features will be included at no extra cost with Kickstarter orders of Trident. Additionally, we will honor the original $1,199 price for early pre-orders in our webstore until later this summer.

Lastly, we’d like to thank you again for making this project possible. We are thrilled to be delivering a product that we are truly proud of. And we know you will be too.

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Unpacking the newest 3D printed Trident Prototype with the OpenROV team