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DIY: Underwater Robotics

Text by Phil Nuytten

Build Your Own Underwater Robot, sold by DIVER, is the book that MATE originally used to start its program and to help mentor teachers for their annual student ROV competition.


First, here’s what DIVER columnist Don Walsh had to say about this magnum opus of undersea technology:

“Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication is most welcome in the world of ocean engineering. It is a well-organized survey of all major aspects of underwater engineering, and it leads students, educators, industry professional, technology enthusiasts, and other interested readers through each subject area in an intelligent and engaging way.

Ocean engineering is a relatively new field of study. It is also an interdisciplinary field, in which a basic knowledge of mathematics, early sciences, physics, computer technology business, and the engineering arts and sciences is required, even for entry-level support staff. While there are many excellent academic programs throughout the world that offer degrees in oceanography, the area of technical education for professionals who support ocean engineering work is still in the early stages of development. Qualified professionals are in high demand, yet few comprehensive training programs or learning materials are available – until now.

This book fills a real need for a broad introduction to oceanographic work. The stories, technical information, scientific knowledge, and projects provide an excellent ‘tour of the horizon’ of this fascinating, wide-ranging interdisciplinary field. Some of the essential concepts and principles that apply to underwater technology can be daunting to those who are new to this work; the authors are to be congratulated for providing easy access to complicated material.

Students at one of MATE's annual Student ROV Competitions. Photo: Courtesy Dive Support Team – 2008 Mate International ROV Competition


Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication is produced by the marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center at Monterey Peninsula College in California. Supported by the National Science Foundation since 1997, the MATE Center works with schools and colleges nationwide to raise awareness of ocean science, technology, and engineering fields. MATE also strives to provide education and professional development for individuals working in these fields, and to recruit and train new technical professionals. This book is a significant contribution to that mission.”

Well, Don’s summary would seem to cover the ground – but actually, it doesn’t even come close! This book is a beast! It is nearly 800 pages long and weighs a whopping six pounds! Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication is designed to allow the reader not only to build his or her own remotely operated vehicle (ROV), but also to understand the principles involved in subsea operations. This book is incredibly detailed and well illustrated with colour plates galore. One of the best features of Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication is the clear, concise illustrations, rendered by Nola Johnson from draft designs by authors Harry Bohm and Steve Moore. Nola Johnson is a superb illustrator. I was familiar with her work from several other books in an unrelated field, but seeing how well she handled complex material that I actually know something about, I’m doubly impressed!

Yes, ROVs can play chess, too! Photo: Courtesy Scott Fraser, Long Beach City College, Electrical Dept. and MATE Center


Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication grew from the unusually well received 1997 book Build Your Own Underwater Robot – and Other Wet Projects by Harry Bohm and Vickie Jensen. DIVER sells this 150-page book – see our book page in every issue – and it’s one of the most popular of all the books we handle. In fact, co-author Vicki Jensen told me it’s sold 18,000 copies to date… and now in its ninth printing.

The MATE writing team from left, Dr. Steven W. Moore, Vickie Jensen, Harry Bohm, and Jill Zande.


Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication is not just the ‘supersize me’ version of the home-built ROV manual. It is in its own class. It is the most concise work on the over-all principles involved in building and operating an ROV that I have seen. Some conference papers might give more detailed particulars on specific subjects, but this book covers all of the basics – as well as a pretty big chunk of the advanced reading in the field. ROV gurus like Drew Michel and Chris Nicholson certainly know all of the stuff between the covers; yet even they are impressed at just how well the principles are explained and supported. Drew puts it well in the preface:

“The primary purpose of this book is to introduce newcomers to the very complex world of subsea technology, but it is also a fascinating look back at the development of subsea inventions for work and exploration. The text explains where we are today, explores possibilities for the future, and encourages individuals to consider careers in the field. Equally important, the book provides readers with a sense of perspective – a look back at where we’ve travelled on this long subsea journey and the interesting characters who led the way.”

One of the many unusual and ingenious manipulator-equipped ROVs created by a student team for competition that requires retrieval of various mission specific targets in the shortest time possible.


Drew put it even more succinctly when we recently talked about this book. “Jeez,” he said, “Can you ever begin to imagine how much work went into this thing?” Sure I can. I’ve known Vickie Jensen for a very long time and she would often call during the assembling of the information for the book, to check some obscure point or other. I said, “I thought this was a book for kids. Those questions go way past that.” She laughed and said, “Wait until you see it. You’ll be surprised!”

It is a truly terrific piece of work. If you have any interest at all in the field of undersea technology, you have my word that you will appreciate this book. It’s not inexpensive, coming in at just over 16 bucks a pound, but well worth every cent of the USD$99.95 it will cost you, plus applicable tax and shipping.

Our top book rating here at DIVER Magazine is fifteen points. Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication is – in my humble opinion – an eighteen pointer.

You can get it through DIVER Magazine – and that would be nice. But wherever you find it, seize a copy – you will be the wiser and you can press flowers like you wouldn’t believe!

Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication
By Steven W. Moore, Harry Bohm and Vickie Jensen
Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center Monterey, California
ISBN # 978-0-9841737-0-9
Published 2010
$99.95 plus tax and postage

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