The iBubble: The World’s First Underwater Camera Drone

With the invention and popularity of action cameras like the GoPro, filming and taking pictures of your adventuresome outings has radically changed. When cameras just a little larger than matchboxes can photograph and record material in extremely high quality, amateur adventurers can now capture moments that used to be reserved for professional photographers.

While action cameras were first attached to people’s bodies, surfboards, or bicycle helmets, the invention of drones means that even the coveted “helicopter” shot is now possible. And as drones have become cheaper, more compact, and even autonomous — simply following you as you go, rather than needing human control — it’s even easier to shoot amazing footage.

Although autonomous action cameras have so far been unavailable scuba divers, as none of the current drones work underwater, that may be about to change. Enter the iBubble, a new, underwater, autonomous drone, currently under development. Invented by a power team consisting of a scuba diver, Kevin Delfour, and a tech whiz, Xavier Spengler, it has been picked up by French startup company Startup Maker for funding. The first prototype is currently under development.

The drone itself will be entirely autonomous and detached from the diver, which makes it unique from some of the other underwater drones that are currently under development. All of these are tethered to the diver via a wire, which acts as a communication link between the drone and the diver. This has been necessary because of the difficulty in transmitting wireless signals through water, which is roughly 800 times denser than air. A standard Bluetooth wireless signal, for instance, which has a reach of 30-ish feet, would find its reach reduced to 9/20 of in inch.

The cable that tethers a drone to a diver isn’t necessarily desirable, however, as it poses a definite entanglement risk when diving near reefs, wrecks or inside structures. The creators of iBubble think that they have solved the problem of signal strength, though, which would make the iBubble as independent of the diver as some of the follow-drones made for surface use.

The iBubble follows the diver by shadowing a signal emitted from a bracelet the diver wears. The bracelet also allows the diver to switch the drone between different modes, such as shadowing, or completing a 360-degree panorama. The iBubble works with most cameras, including the GoPro, and can be set up to shoot both 2D and 3D. A fully charged battery would last one hour and is user replaceable. The unit is waterproof to 230 feet, meeting most divers’ needs.

So will it work? The inventors definitely think so. The technology to create a follow drone exists; the real challenge is in creating a signal strong enough to work between the diver and drone in the water. If they have indeed cracked that nut, the project is entirely feasible, and would definitely take amateur (and pro) underwater footage to a whole new level.

If commercially available underwater drones become popular in a few years, regulation will most likely be necessary. Many national parks in the U.S. already have drone bans, as other guests have felt more like they were in an airport (with really small planes) than in a tranquil, natural setting. Yosemite was one of the first to set up such a ban. Similar initiatives might be introduced on dive spots, such as inside certain, vulnerable wrecks like the SS Thistlegorm.

Pre-sales start as early as February of 2016, with general sales slated to begin in early 2017.

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