In the Water with the GLADIUS MINI Underwater ROV

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Drones are some of the hottest small craft available today, but did you know that some are designed for underwater use? One of the latest and best is the CHASING GLADIUS MINI Underwater ROV, but let’s start with some quick background information. Many people credit the first civilian Remote Control Vehicle (ROV) to Dimitri Rebikoff, from France. In 1953, he created the first fully developed tethered ROV, the “Poodle.” He installed a camera in a pressure-resistant housing, added a water-corrected lens, and mounted it on a tether-controlled vehicle. He used it to explore Mediterranean shipwrecks too deep for divers to reach. In 1954, Poodle captured video of two unexplored Phoenician shipwrecks—one in 700' of water.

In 1961, ROV technology developed further when the US Navy created the cable-controlled underwater research vehicle (CURV), which was used to recover sunken torpedoes. This led the way for ROV development for military and commercial purposes. In 1974, only 20 ROVs were available, and 17 of them were owned by the government. Historically, civilian ROVs have been used mostly for the offshore oil/ gas industry and maritime archaeology.

GLADIUS MINI Underwater ROV

Today, aerial drones are now very popular, but many companies have taken this technology underwater for the recreational user. It does not matter if you call it an “ROV” or an “Underwater Drone,” the concept is the same. All of them have a camera and light mounted in a waterproof enclosure. They have thrusters for mobility and the vehicle is attached to the surface by a cable.

The ROV on the Silver Comet wreck

We went diving with the CHASING GLADIUS MINI Underwater ROV Kit, at Dutch Springs, in Bethlehem, PA. The first thing we noticed was its compact size—the vehicle is only 15 x 8.9 x 5.4" and weights 5.5 lb. The vehicle, base station, remote control, chargers and 100-meter cable all fit smartly into the included backpack.

The GLADIUS MINI is small and compact.

The underwater vehicle is attached to the surface base station by the tether. The user attaches their smart phone or tablet to the remote control, and the base station creates a Wi-Fi signal that allows the remote control to position the vehicle in the water and lets you see what the camera is seeing on the smart phone or tablet with the iOS or Android app. If you have any issues, there is live, US-based service and support.

Surface users see what the ROV is seeing on their smart phone or tablet.

Unlike ROVs of the past, the camera on the GLADIUS MINI can capture UHD 4K and Full HD video, and it can also capture 12-megapixel stills. On both sides of the camera are adjustable 1200-lumen LED headlights with a continuous-power dial on the controller. The battery and 64GB SDXC card are sealed in the vehicle, the advantage being that there is less possibility of a flood, and the only potential failure point is where the tether is attached to the ROV.

GLADIUS MINI has battery and memory card sealed.

This is a secure connection and it is easy to keep the O-ring clean and in good shape, although you cannot change the battery. The ROV does have a maximum speed of four knots, and a battery run time of two hours. If you run the vehicle at a slower speed and only turn the lights on when needed, the battery will last longer.

The only potential failure point is where the tether is attached to the ROV.

To download the images to your computer, you do have to hook up the vehicle to the base station and transfer the images using the Chasing FTP site.

At this time, this is the only recreational ROV on the market with five thrusters and intelligent control algorithms. This allows you to move the vehicle in six directions (forward, backward, left, right, up, and down). The intelligent control algorithms allow the drone to operate smoothly, so you can capture steady, fluid video.

The GLADIUS MINI has one-touch Depth-Lock mode and ±45° Tilt-Lock mode, features that allow you to create images at the angle you want and also let you use the GLADIUS MINI for underwater inspections. The above features make the GLADIUS MINI easy to operate and control, even if you are not an experienced drone pilot.

GLADIUS MINI in -45° Tilt-Lock mode

During our adventure, Aaron Beach operated the GLADIUS MINI from the surface, while Gregory Borodiansky and I enjoyed having a mechanical/digital dive buddy. At Dutch Springs, the fish are accustomed to seeing divers, so when we first deployed the vehicle into the water, fish rushed over to see this strange new gizmo. Aaron was able to follow us down to the shipwreck of the Silver Comet easily. This small shipwreck was the perfect background for us to test the GLADIUS MINI. He kept the vehicle in horizontal trim while diving down the mooring line. Aaron navigated around the wreck smoothly and followed us inside.

The ROV on the Silver Comet wreck

Aaron used the ±45° Tilt-Lock mode to shoot video both up and down while moving forward with the GLADIUS MINI camera’s 95° field of view. He was able to bring the vehicle close to us so there was less water between the ROV’s lens and us. Still being close, the GLADIUS MINI captured footage of us and still took in the wreck in the background. The 1200-lumen LED headlights were close to the lens, and they did light up the silt in the water.

LED headlights do light up the silt.

While Aaron videotaped us, I photographed the GLADIUS MINI. I used the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II mirrorless camera in the Aquatica AE-M1 Mk II housing. So I could get close to the ROV, I choose the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4-5.6 wide-angle lens. For lighting, I used two Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobes. With this gear, I swam close and captured still images of the GLADIUS MINI and the wreck. Aaron could see me on his iPhone while we created the images, and I used hand signals to communicate to Aaron where I needed the vehicle to be positioned for my images.

The ROV follows us inside the wreck.

At the same time, Gregory captured video of me interacting with the GLADIUS MINI using his mask-mounted PARALENZ Dive Camera, a tiny camera that has a 140° angle of view, so Gregory captured candid wide-angle video easily.

After the experience of diving with the GLADIUS MINI, we could imagine it being used for many applications. The drone is rated to 330', so it could be used for deep wreck exploration. Many wrecks are discovered by investigating GPS numbers fisherman give to wreck explorers. These are numbers fishermen avoid because there are structures that snag their nets. In the past, the only way to find out if you were dealing with a rock or a sunken ship was to send in a diver. Technical dives deeper than 150' require expensive helium gas mixtures, and there are risks. Having the GLADIUS MINI do an exploratory trip before sending a diver down would save time and money.

GLADIUS MINI in +45° Tilt-Lock mode

With the GLADIUS MINI, your non-diving friends can experience your dive in real time. Using the iOS or Android mobile app, up to three wireless devices can see what the vehicle is seeing simultaneously. There is an HDMI port on the base station that can be used to view the live footage on a monitor or large TV. The app has a one-touch social media and live-streaming feature, which could come in handy to show and document scuba-diving classes. The GLADIUS MINI is a good tool for more traditional ROV applications, as well, including the inspection of wells, water tanks, boat hauls, and piers.

Your non-diving friends can experience the underwater world in real time.

In conclusion, the CHASING GLADIUS MINI Underwater ROV Kit is a quality user-friendly underwater drone that is good for work or fun.

Larry Cohen's Bio

Larry Cohen has worked as a studio and location photographer for many years. His clients included Baccarat Crystal, Fujifilm, Kodak, Sony, General Electric, Time Warner, and others. His underwater photos have appeared in such publications as Sports Diver, Alert Diver, Canadian Diver, Scuba Diving, and Immersed Magazine. He is the USA East Coast editor for the international web-based magazine X-Ray. Cohen is a past president of the NYC Sea Gypsies, and a founding member of The New York Underwater Photographic Society. In 2017, Cohen was a DivePhotoGuide.com Photographer of the Week. When not underwater, he spends way too much time at a desk at B&H Photo. During that time, he can answer your underwater-camera questions in Live Chat or you can email him at uw@bhphoto.com. See his other work here.

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