Happy New Year! (Trident Kickstarter Update #28)

Original post : January 19, 2018

We hope everyone’s year is off to a great start!

We’ve been hard at work ramping up Trident production and managing the supply chain for our assembly processes. Based on how things are looking, we expect to have most, if not all, pre-ordered units shipped by the end of May. We are continuing to ship units out as part of our beta program and have been getting invaluable feedback about how to improve Trident’s performance and user experience. Beta users have already logged hundreds of flight hours so far in a variety of locations: from the warm waters of the tropics to the icy fjords of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Some additional changes we’ve made based on feedback from beta users have included passivating several stainless steel fasteners that were showing mild signs of corrosion, modifying the process our motors are built with to improve ruggedness, adding capacitance to the topside adapter to make it more tolerant of power fluctuation, and adding some additional testing jigs to our assembly line to better detect quality concerns. We are also vetting several backup suppliers to help ensure we don’t get set back by any unexpected part shortages.

We’ve firmed-up the packaging for our first Trident orders as well. The box has a minimal design with a handle on the side for easy carrying. When you open the box, Trident is the first thing you see, and by pulling out the foam cradle that holds Trident, you are able to access the 25m tether reel and trim weights that are used for saltwater. There is a separate section on one side of the box that holds the charger and velcro strap for the tether. You can see some unboxing videos a few of our beta testers have made here and here. Special thanks to Laura James and Andrew David Thaler for putting these together!

OpenROV Trident
Trident will come in straight-forward packaging that can be reused as a carrying case.

We’re currently working on a final version of our quickstart guide which will also come inside the box, and will post a copy of it online once it’s completed.

Now that we’ve solidified Trident’s assembly process, most of our effort has been directed toward production rate management. Some of our challenges have included navigating component shortages and working with suppliers to improve items that have come in with unsatisfactory quality. We also have to be careful to balance purchase and production quantities with risk factors relating to things we may want to change to make the product better. We’ll continue to optimize for all of these conditions to the best of our ability, and keep everyone updated with the latest information we have.

While our hardware team has been working on making the physical vehicle as solid and capable as possible, our software team has been focusing on creating a platform with an excellent user experience and powerful capabilities. Over the last few months, we’ve begun implementing some key features that we think will make Trident an exceptional underwater exploration tool including orientation control and video quality.

Orientation Control

Maintaining stability while underwater is extremely important for making observations and staying oriented in the absence of visual cues. Some existing ROVs have the option to toggle heading and depth hold functions which, when engaged, lock the vehicle in a given direction and depth. We’ve designed a control system for Trident that automatically locks heading and depth positions in the absence of pilot-provided control inputs. With this system, you can still fly Trident around like you normally would, but when you take your hands off the sticks, Trident does the work of staying oriented. Having an orientation controller built this way will allow Trident to perform reliably even when there are outside disturbances such as asymmetrical tether drag and improper buoyancy from changes in water conditions, and allows the pilot to focus on an objective without having to actively correct for those things. Since Trident also has pitch authority which affects depth during forward movement, we’ve instituted a pitch controller as well--engaging when pitch is not being explicitly controlled. The combination of these functions makes doing transects with Trident much more straightforward and gives the pilot an easier and more enjoyable flying experience in rough conditions.

Trident's depth controller will correct for changes in buoyancy

Tridents heading controller locks onto whatever direction it is left at and rejects outside yaw disturbances

Video Quality

As described in one of our very early updates, we selected Trident’s onboard camera specifically for its high-quality underwater performance. Its large pixel size and high dynamic range give it excellent low-light sensitivity and color rendition, which are critical in underwater environments. The camera also has some advanced features which we have spent additional time tuning, including a de-warp engine that corrects for aberrations in our lens system and window/water interface. The effects of this tuning may seem subtle, but we believe these small adjustments and attention to detail are what will make the difference between regular video and imagery that is truly stunning.

We’ve also been working on an onboard recording solution for our video to ensure people are able to get the best possible footage. Recording on board allows us to bump up the bitrate, resulting in better quality video and the elimination of dropped frames in spotty WiFi scenarios. We’re exploring several workflows for how to get the full quality video off of the vehicle after a dive, and we’ll post updates on that as it comes together.

It’s been wonderful to have the feedback and support of our community as we’ve been developing Trident. One of our greatest pleasures is hearing what amazing things people plan to use our vehicle for, and we’ve had the fortune of being able to incorporate many of those use cases into our design.

In our last update, we posted a link to a survey that asked people what accessories they’d most like to see for Trident. We’ve already received dozens of responses which we greatly appreciate, and we’ll continue to keep that survey open for anyone else who’d like to suggest something. You can find the link here.

We’ve also listened carefully to the many folks who prefer iOS devices and said they’d really like Trident to be compatible with the hardware they have. We focused initially on using just one operating system (we chose Android), but OpenROV Cockpit for iOS is coming. This project will take a few more months to complete, but we believe it will make Trident more accessible. And, as we mentioned before, you can always get the new, dedicated controller (which runs Android) here.

In case you’re not already following us on social media, we’ve been posting lots of photos and videos from Trident - such as this awesome clip of blue whales just outside of Monterey Bay:

We also loved watching this footage of strange creatures off the Galapagos:

Thank you to Dominik Fretz for creating both of these amazing pieces of footage!

Our Facebook page is a great place to see what people are exploring with Trident. We will continue to share the footage we’ve been receiving there - particularly as more units make their way into the field!

As always, we appreciate all of your support and patience as we make it through the final leg of our journey to introduce a new tool for exploration. Please don’t hesitate to email us at support@openrov.com if you have any questions.

Thank you,