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Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication

Author: Don Chanbers

From the September/October Issue of Robot Magazine

by Steven Moore, Harry Bohm and Vickie Jensen, © 2010 Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center,

underwater_00When was the last time you picked up a textbook and just couldn’t put it down because it was so interesting and compelling? The latest text/manual/history/collection of biographies on the subject of submersible robotics has recently been shipped. I had the chance to read this 750 page, 10-year labor of love during a recent week in Monterey, California and I was blown away. I can tell you, this book is going to do much more than spark a lot of interest in underwater robotics. It’s going to raise the standards of quality and success in the field. I believe it’s also going to be a leader in how text books themselves are written.

underwater_Ch2As a teacher at the American School in Japan (ASIJ) and as a mentor for robotics competition teams, I can confidently say that textbooks influenced by this work will be written from the standpoint of what the student will learn rather than what the textbook will teach. In other words, this volume is written with a lot more consideration of the student in mind than your classic text. It is written to introduce the learner to the innovative spirit of robotics industry leaders as well as how the student can become immediately involved. The book not only ushers the reader into a centuries old community of risk takers, armed with science, courage and a passion for technology, it also puts all the current understanding on the table for the career seeker and enthusiast alike.


underwater_Ch4The authors have skillfully and meaningfully woven history, biography, science, engineering and workshop techniques together to provide…well, it’s not really a jump start, it’s more like a catapult. It’s not really an introduction, it’s more like an arranged marriage with a whirl-wind introduction to the entire family. It takes you from zero to 60 in nothing flat. What do I mean by that? Simply that a novice to the subject armed with this book and about two hundred bucks can have a working submersible in the water within a few days. I’m not kidding. Of course, the budget goes up as you add  features to your bot…sensors, mechanical actuators, fancy cameras, etc.

The book is organized into 12 chapters (plus substantial additional materials) with titles like: Structure and Materials, Pressure Hulls and Canisters, Power Systems, Navigation and Control. At the beginning of each chapter are clearly stated educational outcomes. These are statements of what the student will learn in the chapter. The meat of the chapter begins with a “Story from real life.” These substantial historical vignettes are guaranteed to engage the reader and lay the groundwork for serious study. Together they encompass the history of submersible technology. As a collection they read like a thriller, and perhaps most importantly, they firmly establish the importance of developing a culture of safety.

underwater_Ch5My personal favorite is the account of how Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh made an expedition to the deepest part of the ocean, approximately seven miles down into a region of the Marianas Trench called the Challenger Deep, in the bathyscaph Trieste. Arriving at the bottom they observed a flat fish swim slowly away. So there is life, and in abundance, in the deep ocean—even with no light and under eight tons of pressure per square inch. The only feat I know of that is comparable is the lunar landing.





1. Underwater Vehicles

2. Design Toolkit

3. Working in Water

4. Structure and Materials

5. Pressure Hulls and Canisters

6. Buoyancy, Stability, and Ballast

7. Moving and Maneuvering

8. Power Systems

9. Navigation and Control

10. Hydraulics and Payloads

11. Operations

12. SeaMATE [editor’s note: a build project]


The chapters continue expertly melding scientific principles, engineering concepts and workshop practices. The authors are well experienced and quite willing to share their knowledge, including the insights, shortcuts, and special techniques they have gleaned from building countless ROVs over the years. The chapters are liberally salted with historic highlights, tech notes, safety notes and illustrations, as well as tables, pictures, definitions and clear explanations. Basic scientific principles are used to explain and elucidate the practice whenever possible, making this book a great resource for a wide variety of science classes such as physics, chemistry and earth science, marine studies and engineering. Chapter 12 is a step by step walkthrough of how to build a ROV. In fact, one could start with this chapter and commence building right away. It stands alone and literally plunges one right into the field.


Underwater Robotics represents the combined efforts and experience of many able professionals under the auspices of MATE (Marine Advanced Technology Education center) located at Monterey Peninsula College. The effort was coordinated by Jill Zande, and funded by the National Science Foundation. Jill is a consummate organizer who has a singular ability to bring people together and get over-th- top results. She is responsible for the exponential growth of the MATE ROV competitions now taking place all over the globe. The book is a doorway to entering these competitions.

Underwater Robotics is published by the MATE center ( and is available directly through them. It sells for 100 dollars and is worth every penny. This is a necessary book for any underwater robotics program. It is also a great science and engineering reference book. I urge you to pick up at least one copy for your personal library and/or your school.

—Don Chambers, Educator, ASIJ