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So you’ve just bought an underwater drone. What else do you need to bring with you? What else should you buy?
When building your field kit, it’s important to keep in mind cost, size, and capability. Because we’re using compact and transportable drone, we don’t want to overload ourselves with thousands of dollars and pelican case upon pelican case of accessories. We want to stay light, mobile, and efficient.
We’ve talked to dozens of Trident pilots, researchers, marine archeologists, and educators to find out what they recommend bringing along.
From Eric, creator and engineer of Trident:
“You really don’t need much. I typically don’t bring much but I always bring my leatherman. It’s a Leatherman Wave. The old style Wave. I really like it. I got it when I was 11. I was building ham radio stuff and I asked for it for my birthday. When I was in high school, a girl I liked stole it and engraved it for me. She was afraid I’d be mad because she knew how much I liked it so she did it very lightly so you can barely see it... if you hold it at just the right angle you can still see my name in script. I’ve worn it everyday for most of my whole life. The wave was popular because it had the right tools and has beveled edges for a really comfortable grip. I bring that, and maybe a little towel to keep Trident dry”
You can get one (of the new models) from Leatherman. $100
From Nicole, Sofar customer support lead and non-profit coordinator:
“The most difficult thing I run into out in the field is seeing the screen in the sun. I use this sunshade from Amazon, it’s a life-saver when it’s really bright out. It’s not as good as being able to send the video to a monitor or television but that’s not always an option, like when we were in Peru and we were in a tiny inflatable all day.”
You can pick this one up from Amazon for use with the Trident Controller. $17
From Manyu at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute:
“I usually use these little joystick pads on my tablet instead of an external controller, because they give the feel of a joystick and they're self-centering, but I don't have to connect a bluetooth device. That said, if you do use an external controller, for $6 you could have a backup pair of these, in case the battery goes out on you!”
Score these on Amazon if you’re using a phone or tablet. $7
From Austin on the Facebook Pilot’s Group:
“A towel. I sit under it with my phone/tablet instead of using a sunshade. It’s also for drying the tether before spooling it back on the reel.”
Commonly available wherever towels are sold.
After compiling these ideas and searching through the records of our own trips we’ve come up with what we consider a good, basic field kit for Trident .
Our basic field kit is as follows:
A small pocket multitool will be useful often on deployment. Mostly, we use a small screwdriver to open up the motor compartment of Trident to allow it to dry out after a dive or get some seaweed out after a bad grounding. Having a basic set of tools on hand will also help when running into issues on the boat or on the dock that aren’t underwater drone related. While Eric swears by his multitool from leatherman, a small screwdriver, pliers, and a knife goes a long way.
Most crucial is 1 small roll of silver duct tape. You can get these from camping supply stores that don’t have a large ring so they take up less space. I also bring a single roll of 3M super 33+ black vinyl electrical tape.
Sunshade for tablet or phone
As Nicole mentioned earlier, this is so helpful to have. For those of you already using the Trident Controller, you can pick up one from Amazon pretty cheap. They make different sizes for other tablets as well. The sun can be a real factor. Along those lines, don’t forget to protect yourself with some good sunscreen or high SPF clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. You will also probably lose your sunglasses without a lanyard or Croakies.
I’d like to tell you that all the Trident pilots out there are hardened sea-veterans...while some are, many, like myself, get seasick easily. And I’m not going to miss out on any fun just because of it. If the offshore report is 3 feet or more, I’m taking a Dramamine before we get out.
GoPro with adhesive mounts
Documentation is crucial. Pics or it didn’t happen, right? Out of all the expensive camera gear we’ve brought along the go-to for us is the GoPro Hero. We use these constantly for establishing shots or alternative views on the Trident itself. The waterproof housing gets you 30 to 60 meters depth, which is not bad for the price.
Field repairs and deployments happen at night even if you don’t plan it. For the space it takes and the cost, it’s worth it to have a headlamp when you can.
Don’t forget to bring a towel. Words to live by. Thanks for the suggestion, Austin.
WD-40 or silicone spray
You might not have time to properly clean any gear or exposed motors. WD-40 silicone will keep your underwater drone motors free of water until you can get home and properly maintain them.
Notebook and pen
I prefer the small passport-sized notebook from Scout Books but there’s a number of good ones out there from Moleskine and Field Notes.
These can be hard to find when you need them. I know how to ask for them in Spanish and French...which I guess goes to show you how often I forget to pack some.
Extra trim weights
Your buoyancy is essential! You can never be sure who’s going to want to bolt this or that onto your underwater drone or what the salinity is going to be like. Having some extra trim weights is such a good idea. I like the adhesive-backed tire balancing weights (stainless steel) for adjustments in the field or when the out-of-the-box buoyancy solutions don’t quite get me neutral. Or when I inevitably lose them in the sand or over the deck.
Solder-seal wire connectors
These little guys are great. You can use a lighter or heat gun to create a wire to wire connection that will be mostly waterproof at reasonable depths. We’ve tested this down to 30m but done correctly I bet they will go deeper. It’s what I’d use to repair a torn tether as well. Save the day and be a hero by keeping a few of these handy.
That old boy scout compass sitting in your desk drawer since the 1980’s...grab that. You’ll need it. The magnetometers on underwater drones are sufficient for holding a path but don’t often give you a visual queue since you are usually unable to see them (as they are often underwater). The compass on a boat chart plotter is often set by the last waypoint as it is compared to the current waypoint, which means unless you are travelling at a pretty good clip it is not accurate at all. The handheld version keeps you oriented easily and quickly with a nice visual queue so you don’t need to do any mental gymnastics to orient yourself while also piloting an underwater drone.
Your Trident Accessories
Of course no field kit would be complete without all of your Trident accessories. We recommend the 100 meter tether for any dives you are doing off shore, and the JDX controller makes piloting Trident a breeze.
I hope you enjoyed this list. Please let us know if you’ve got something in mind that would be good to add!
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Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), like any machine or equipment used in marine or freshwater applications, present a potential risk for the transmission of invasive species. If not properly cleaned and treated, they may introduce novel species into new regions.