Arial drones are so yesterday. The ocean depth is the new shit.
We buddied up with Blueye Pioneer, an underwater drone developed in Norway, to see what this sophisticated machine could do. Blueye software developer Jonas Follesø was in charge of the joystick and would make sure the drone did his new job as an underwater model for WEDIVE.no
Face to face with a pioneer – Video
The Blueye Pioneer has its roots from the Norwegian University of Technology and Science (NTNU). The quest is to make the beauty of the oceans and the danger they face visible for everyone – everywhere. The team has worked on prototypes of the Blueye for some time and is aiming to launch a commercial unit late in 2017. If they succeed, the Blueye will outperform industrial ROV´s to a far more reasonable price.
Blueye and diver Henrik Øgård
Secret hand signals
Our first task for the Blueye was to model next to a small shipwreck. By a combination of unique hand signals invented one minute before we descended, Jonas would position the drone where we wanted it. The wide angle HD camera in front of the Blueye would stream our hand signals to the surface for Jonas to react immediately. The pilot can watch the live stream on his smart phone, tablet, laptop or simply dive into the underwater world with first person view (FPV) googles.
When we gave Jonas a closed fist, it didn´t mean; “I warn you, one more time and I will knock you down!”, it meant “stay in this position”. Jonas simply pushed a button to lock compass heading and depth. While an aerial drone will hover in the same position thanks to the GPS signals, there are no easy available GPS signals underwater. Jonas had to do micro adjustments to maintain position due to the ocean movement.
Jonas Follesø and the Blueye Pioneer. The drone weighs 8 kg and can easily be carried along.
This shipwreck was small and in shallow water, but imagine what the Blueye can do down to a depth of 150 meters. Countless of undiscovered wrecks are only accessible by advanced technical divers. These can be explored safely and for a long time without worrying about the cold decompression. The large battery will provide the drone with enough power to explore at least 2 hours. Technical divers can also make good use of the drone as they can investigate the wreck prior to the dive and make a better and safer dive plan.
Blueye exploring a small ship wreck
Who needs BBC and National Geographic?
Our next model assignment for the Blueye was next to a dead man´s fingers coral. The drone is an excellent tool for exploration of marine life. The Blueye team has managed to film the ghost shark (Chimaera monstrosa) at a depth of more than 100 meters. Many species prefer depths beyond the range of normal scuba divers and with the Blueye Pioneer and some patience, you can track them down. The camera delivers high definition movie (1080p@30fps), but Jonas admit that they cannot match the image quality from brands like GoPro or Sony. That’s why they will provide mounting options for third party cameras which can record the same image as the Blueye´s own camera.
Another camera issue which became obvious when we reviewed the footage, is the short distance between the powerful LED light and the camera lens. In bad visibility, the particles in the ocean will be illuminated easier when the angle between the light and camera lens is too small. This is referred to as backscatter in underwater camera terminology. The distance is however maximized within the current design, and the Blueye team has managed to get the most out of it by providing several power settings and of course the possibility for turning the light completely off.
Another limitation to the camera is that it will only shoot in the horizontal angle. There is no possibility for tilting the camera to shoot upwards or downwards. We believe that such a feature would make the drone an even greater threat to all us underwater photo- and videographers out there. Let’s hope it is not implemented immediately 🙂
Many thanks to Jonas Follesø for letting us dive with the Blueye Pioneer, and we wish the drone good luck in all the world’s oceans. Entertain and educate buddy!