Ask those in the tech sector about the latest hot devices and drones sit at the top of the “emerging product” category. It’s hard to miss all these devices zooming above the treetops these days but drones come in all shapes and sizes and don’t just cruise in the air. A sizzling part of this movement is underwater drones, which some forecasters are saying will become a $5.20 billion market by 2022 and see huge growth thereafter. On the low end, underwater drones are already swimming into the market at a rapid clip from crowd-funded startups to small companies on a mission to solve specific problems. For example, there are consumer submersibles that locate fish, then shoot video of the underwater struggle for would-be anglers. In addition, a couple of young companies have developed underwater drones that zap lionfish — an invasive, non-native species rapidly destroying natives in the Atlantic — then vacuum them into a chamber for removal.
Unmanned underwater vehicles already have an established market among oceanographers, filmmakers and the military, but such devices have steep price tags starting at $20,000. Consumer submersibles at one-tenth the cost represent the biggest future for these devices, with the most successful drones being those not in the “toy” category, combining affordability with the rich feature set and capabilities of the pricey “professional” drones. Such promising devices will be able to address a variety of applications rather than just one, broadening their market.
These drones come equipped with cameras, which is part of the historic challenge of building such devices because sending images is much more difficult underwater than it is on land. In fact, the various technical demands of making high-performance underwater drones without the commensurate price tag has been the biggest factor in the past limiting the use of drones by the many researchers that would love to have them, according to experts like James Bellingham, director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Center for Marine Robotics. Just putting aerial drone technology into an underwater drone doesn’t result in success, as some Chinese manufacturers are discovering.
Erik Dyrkoren – CEO of Blueye Robotics