Italy’s WitLab Creates 3D Printed ArcheoRov, Ready for Underwater Archaeological Expeditions

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witlab-logoI really enjoy learning, and writing, about drones. There are a lot of applications for drone technology, ranging from the more mundane (but fun!) pizza delivery to cutting-edge drones being used as first responders in search and rescue operations. So, what’s even cooler than a drone flying through the air? Drones swimming through the water, of course!

We’ve seen drone technology and additive manufacturing used to help make the NEMO (Nautical Exploratory Modular Observer) and the Blue Robotics submarine drone with 3D printed thruster, and who could forget the CRACUNS submersible drone that can go straight from underwater to high in the air? Now, Italy-based WitLab has taken to the water as well – meet the 3D printed ArcheoRov.

The ArcheoRov is an underwater ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle). It doesn’t seem too intimidating at first – it’s less than 60cm long, and it’s not super speedy. But it can “swim” like a fish, instead of remaining stationary in one spot, and is 3D printed. WitLab’s Dr. Emanuele Rocco, one of the creators of ArcheoRov, explained that what’s really impressive about it is the acceleration of the design – from concept to delivery, the customized ArcheoRov only took ten weeks.

archeorovArcheoRov was built in the Roverto WitLab, which is in the green Manufacturing Project incubator of Trentino Development. It was designed and built for Arc-Team, a company that provides multiple services in the cultural heritage field, including underwater archaeology, aerial shots by flying drones, archival research and historical studies, and archaeological excavations.

“The project was created to archaeological requirements. Six months ago l’Arc-Team Cles asked us a small submarine drone to explore the depths of the alpine lakes,” Andrea Saiani, the other ArcheoRov creator, explained to Wired Italy (translated). “It weighs 6 pounds, compared with 70-80 pounds of products already on the market, therefore, an archaeologist you can carry in a backpack. It costs about 2,500 Euros, against an average of 25 thousand.”

Dr. Rocco explained that ArcheoRov is able to orient its body upwards or downwards, in order to get the best view possible from one of its two cameras, as it is able to “tip itself on end and sink or rise in seconds.” This characteristic makes the little underwater ROV perfect for sweeping visual surveys, necessary for archaeological expeditions. Its small size makes it suitable for the job Arc-Team needs it for: hard-to-reach stone age relics that are preserved deep in mountain lakes.

Initial calibration tests of ArcheoRov's underwater camera [Image: WitLab]

Initial calibration tests of ArcheoRov’s underwater camera [Image: WitLab]

ArcheoRov’s two batteries are sealed inside pressure-resistant units. The maneuverability comes from its three 130W T100 electric thrusters: one downward facing thruster at the rear, and two facing forward at the front. Each thruster packs 2.36 kg of push, which is enough to pull along the attached WiFi-enabled buoy that provides researchers at the surface a data link to the ArcheoRov. Dr. Rocco said once, when he got tired, the ArcheoRov was even able to tow him along. Eventually, the researchers would like to be able to get rid of the wire-guided buoy and “mount a GPS system to draw an area to be scanned automatically by flaps of the robot, which then reports the data of his observations to the researcher.”

underwater-drone-archeorovThe research team had a lot of ideas at the beginning, and used one of WitLab’s rapid prototyping machines to print up three possible candidates. Once they constructed the plastic outline for what would become the ArcheoRov, they just needed to attach the motors, which were powered from a source outside the tank, and see what type of configuration gave them the response they were looking for. Finally, ArcheoRov had its first successful underwater outing in Madrone Alpine Lake, in Trentino, Italy, at 2,400m altitude.

archeorov-close-upOne of the most pertinent features of the ArcheoRov is that the design is open source, so anyone with a 3D printer and a love for things under the sea is able to access it and build their own ArcheoRov. It uses the Robot Operating System (ROS), which is a set of open source software tools and libraries. Dr. Rocco believes that we are entering a new phase of professional experimentation, where researchers can work on assembling their own ROV or drone for the exact purpose they need, whether it’s pollution monitoring, marine biology, exploring reefs and shipwrecks, and archaeologists who research the seabed.

Dr. Rocco said, “This is important because by doing so we are enabling the developer community to easily add their custom software extensions or even make ArcheoROV semiautonomous…Now it’s quick and cheap, people can design their own ROV.”

The ArcheoRov hardware was designed using SOLIDWORKS, and software written using Python. The first model, with a camera for navigation and one for 3D shooting, is already available, but WitLab is already back to the drawing board, developing a sonar-equipped version with a thermometer and a mechanical arm. A Kickstarter campaign is in the works for next year.

Check out this video to see the ArcheoRov swimming in action:

Discuss in the ArcheoRov forum at

[Sources/Images: WitLab / Maritime Journal / Wired]


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