Best Underwater Drones – Are they ready for prime time?
Drones are everywhere nowadays. News channels use them to make footage of accidents or sights of interest. The military uses them for who knows what. And then we randomly hear about near hits between drones and planes.
All of the drones we always hear about are flying drones. What about other kinds of drones? What about underwater drones?
No, not the remote-controlled mini-subs that are used to check down in thousands of feet underwater. More the ones that we could use to scout out a wreck dive we want to do. Or, provide us with video footage of fantastic sites under water? Guess what – they do exist, and they are amazing!
These underwater drones are equipped with cameras and lights, and you can send them down into lakes and oceans or any other kind of body of water. You can record and view all that they get into their sight without having to go into the water yourself.
Now, don’t get us wrong, we love diving and snorkeling but how amazing is it to think that you can get a perfect underwater view of any of the sights while you’re relaxing on a boat and not risking to violate any decompression safety settings? You take your drone and send it underwater while you watch everything as if you were down there yourself.
Only a few years ago underwater drones where super-expensive and no recreational diver would have been able to afford one. Nowadays, these drones are still expensive but no longer entirely out of reach. They are also easier to operate. The old min-subs that were used commercially required a lot of training to work them effectively and safely.
Before you run to the next store to get your underwater drone, take a moment and have a look at the best ones we found at this time. And be aware that they are not cheap. Drones that fly often look slick and smooth and have gotten pretty competitive over the years. The ones that have to survive the pressure underwater are unfortunately quite a bit more expensive and often don't look that stylish! There are more and more consumer underwater drones hitting the market, and that will eventually bring down the prices tremendously.
To make a choice simpler, we decided only to pick drones that are readily available. While you can read about many announced drones or drones where kickstarter or funding campaigns have started, we wanted to focus on the ones that you get and use.
What do you have to consider?
There are many different types of underwater drones. Compared to drones that there's a problem with transmitting the signals between the remote and the drone that's underwater. Wireless signals don't travel that well under water, and if you want a drone that can go to reasonable depths, you will need one that is connected by cable to the remote. That, in turn, does limit the depth you can reach as the length of the wire limits it.
What drones can you get?
Many different drones are available today that you can purchase. There are very cheap ones that you can use for videotaping in shallow waters down to about 10 feet. If you want a drone that reaches depths of 150 feet or more then you will have to have to open your wallet quite a bit farther.
PowerVision PowerRay Wizard Underwater Drone
The PowerVision PowerRay Wizard is one of the slickest underwater drones you can find today. It resembles the shape of a ray and has terrific technology packed into it.
The camera is integrated, and you can record in 4K UHD. It also allows you to shoot photos with a resolution of 12 MP giving you some impressive imagery when using the drone.
The drone connects with a 164ft tether to the base station. Commands transmit through that cable which does restrict the depth naturally to the maximum length of the cable. The batteries on the PowerRay last for up to 4 hours.
The remote transmitter that's used by the operator connects wirelessly to the base station. Besides changing direction, depth, and speed, you can also control the LED lighting in the drone to adapt and adjust visibility.
A neat feature is that the drone comes with Zeiss VR One Plus googles. You can view the images taken with this VR headset as soon as the photos or video are received. The Vision+ mobile app runs on iOS and Android and provides real-time viewing of videos and pictures taken by the drone. It's as close to being down there underwater yourself as it gets!
The feedback you can find is overall mixed. You'll need to have a solid understanding of drones to get the most out of this device. Assuming that you can drop it in the water and it magically does the video and photos and you'll have no problem working with the drone is not the case. You'll need to get used to how to operate the device.
The Robosea Biki is a different kind of drone. And that’s not only because it looks like a fish. While for example the PowerVision PowerRay is connected by a tether and cable, the Biki is a drone that you pre-program and then send on its way.
You can have it dive down to depths of up to 196 feet to take video or photos. Video can record in 4K quality. However, as the drone dives on a predetermined route without a real-time connection, you won't be able to see that imagery in real-time. It also means that you can't react to unforeseen circumstances as the route is preset and you can't adjust it on the fly.
At very shallow depths you can use the remote to drive the Biki, but if you want to use it down below a few feet, you will have to use a preprogrammed dive route. If you do not have the Biki dive at all, then you actually can control it with an app on Android or iOS to have it swim on the surface.
ThorRobotics Trenchrover110 ROV Underwater Drone
The ThorRobotics Trenchrover110 ROV Underwater Drone is an impressive underwater drone. It doesn't look as smooth and styled as some of the other drones we introduced, but it has some exciting capabilities in store.
You control the Trenchrover 110 through a base station that is connected to the drone by cable. The maximum dive depth is 30 meters which is the length of the cable.
This drone does have a built-in camera. Besides, you can place your GoPro or Sony HDR-AZ1 or compatible cameras into the drone to create videos and photos. By connecting your Android or iOS device, you can watch the images and video as they record.
Geneinno Poseidon I Underwater Drone
The Geneinno Poseidon I Underwater Drone is a fascinating device. It's neither shaped like a fish nor a ray but does in some ways outperform either one of the before mentioned drones.
The drone is connected to the base station by a tether and communication cable. The tether offers a length of 328 feet with a maximum diving depth of 394 feet for the drone itself. No question that this is plenty of depth to have fun with the device!
It features an HD camera with a 1080P resolution. You can capture full HD video or photos. To produce even better images, there’s a 120-degree wide angle lens on the camera, so you get a vast field of view for your pictures and video. You can watch the captured images in real-time on your mobile device.
You link your mobile device (phone or tablet) to the base station through WiFi, and you can control the Poseidon through your screen!
The Geneinno Poseidon I is built compact, so it's easy to travel with it. Being able to control the device in real-time makes it a blast to use and take video and photos during its dives.
ThorRobotics Underwater Drone Mini Mariana
Should the ThorRobotics Underwater Drone Mini Mariana be called an underwater drone? It seems more like a toy.
It's not in the same class as the other drones we listed before. While these can dive down to substantial depths, the Mariana can only dive to 3 m. This feature doesn't sound impressive at all at first sight, but it still can make a lot of fun and great images!
It features a built-in HD camera. It's not 4K, but it does provide some reasonably good footage. You can have the camera record video or photos, and you can view them in real-time on your phone or tablet.
With the remote control, you can adjust the speed, direction, and depth and trigger the camera. The maximum range of the remote is 100 meters so you can get some decent range when operating the drone.
Are they ready for prime time?
Well some of them are. Others not so much. The price on the good ones is pretty high for something that's not much more than an exciting toy that can produce nice images and videos from underwater without you having to dive.
We honestly think that it's more fun to scuba dive or snorkel yourself and experience the wonders underwater first hand. Photos and videos can be great fun but they don't replace first-hand experience.