Underwater Robot Makes a Splash at George Williams College


A new learning tool has arrived at George Williams College that will provide a whole new way to explore Geneva Lake under the surface. The college now owns an underwater robot, also known as a remotely controlled vehicle (ROV). The ROV will allow students to gather video images to document the underwater environment, providing information about the types and quantity of aquatic plants growing in the litoral zone (the part of the lake close to the shore). Video capabilities also will help seek out and quantify aquatic invasive species. Scientific instruments will be used to measure water quality parameters such as pH, temperature and dissolved oxygen.

An ROV is controlled from the surface. Onboard cameras allow for exploration of underwater environments that otherwise cannot easily be explored. ROVs are able to go deeper and stay down longer than scuba divers. Perhaps the best known use of an ROV is the discovery and documentation of the RMS Titanic.

“I have been using a borrowed ROV as a teaching tool since 2009,” said Christopher Wells, Assistant Professor Parks and Recreation. “Commercial models are very expensive. Thankfully, I have the good fortune of collaborating with an ROV pilot who believes in the importance of education and has made his ROV available to the college on occasion.”

For the past three years the pilot has demonstrated his ROV during George Williams College Lake Study Day, an educational outreach program designed and presented by George Williams students for visiting elementary school students. The ROV has been a highlight of the event each year.

An open-source underwater vehicle project (OpenROV) makes it much more affordable to own an ROV. The design documents are available at no cost, and builders are able to make units completely from scratch. “The kit is challenging to build, but the process is very interesting,” said Wells. “A community of builders contributes to the design and improvement of the ROV through online forums. It is exciting to be a part of that community through following and participating in the dialogue.”

There are a number of educational programs that feature ROVs. Several ocean research ships are now broadcasting live images from their ROVs. Examples include:

Nautilus Live  

NOAA Okeanos Explorer

Ocean Networks Canada