Project Profile

Goals of the project

The goal of this Project was to create an open source ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) that is more robust than other cheaper underwater robots but still less expensive than industrial grade equipment. This project was brought up in our Robotics Lab at Santa Clara University since we have many underwater robots, but most are in the $100,000 range and are large unwieldy robots requiring special equipment to transport and operate. A few years ago the lab worked together and created 4 small ROV’s but these were flimsy, depth limited and subjectable to current in the water. The bright side of the small ROV’s is that they were much less expensive, somewhere in the $2,000 range. The objective of this robot was to fill the gap and make a larger more robust robot, at a more affordable cost that can be run by 1-2 people with no special equipment.

Nature of the Collaboration

We teamed together with other schools and other departments to make this a more open sourced project. Some members of other schools wanted to add a robotic arm later on to our test bed so we supplied power ports and mounting options so they can do so at a later time. Our team also worked with Programing majors in our school to develop software that allows the use of a smart phone or tablet to control the robot. This was not the focus of our work but shows how we made it so it can be adapted to what you want to do with it.


The fundamental skills used on this project included structural and electrical design, machining, soldering, and programming. We started the design using Computer Aided Design (CAD) to determine the general size and shape that we wanted. From there, we built prototypes of the frame and larger parts out of cardboard using a CO2 laser cutter to get a sense of how to integrate all the components together. At this time, we started to piece together electronic components, generated power requirements, determined what will be controlling what, created a comprehensive list of components to order. We narrowed it down to a final design and sent the frame to get cut out of HDPE. The brackets to hold the frame together are made out of aluminum and had to be machined. The water proof bottles were mostly machined out of house but fittings for the plugs were done in house. The electronic plugs were ordered, soldered and modified to fit our application. The electronics were mounted on custom laser cut wood trays and all the wiring was done. Brackets and all necessary mounting equipment were made using various techniques. We made a custom controller using various techniques using custom and premade components. This was in no way a one or two simple operation project but rather a mix of everything. 


  • CAD software-modeling of the robot
  • Laser cutter- prototyping, mounting platforms, and fixtures
  • Water Jet- cutting the HDPE for the frame
  • Bridgeport Mill-Aluminum mounting brackets and machining Delrin end caps
  • Soldering iron- Electronics
  • Arduino- Microcontroller
  • Power Hand tools of various kinds, such as dermal for small hand operations


The original idea evolved from realizing a need for a mid-range underwater robot. We worked on initial pricing, target market and determined the feasibility for the price point that we wanted. We then divided the project into two major sections – the frame and electronics. We all worked simultaneously on these two portions as the project developed. Once we had a frame and all the electronics working on a bench top we integrated the two and did final adjustments.


The major milestones for this project were drafting the design, building prototypes to verify the design, developing the electronics, building the frame, integrating the electronics into the frame, and finally testing and verifying the completed ROV.

Challenges encountered

Of course there were challenges!!! This project had endless challenges and still gives us trouble from time to time. The most important lesson learned is to always double check work and plan time to troubleshoot because nothing is perfect the first time.

Major outcomes

We created a usable robot that can easily be deployed to perform marine research. The robot is still running and can be modified for specific missions.

Innovations, impact and successes

It filled the need for a mid-range underwater ROV that is less expensive than industrial grade robots and has more capabilities than low end robots. It can be used more frequently and easier than the larger robots.