Geography’s Fleming Builds Remote Operated Submarine For Underwater Research at UNA

Fleming Sub


FLORENCE, Ala. – Dr. Jonathan Fleming said he is human like everyone else when it comes to finding inspiration for ways to enhance hands-on learning.  Fleming, who currently serves as an assistant professor in the Geography Department, has introduced a new tool to his classes, a remoted controlled submarine.

When describing what peaked his interest in building the small underwater vessel, Fleming said it was a television show, the Big Picture with Kal Penn, which sparked his inner Jacque Cousteau.

Fleming said that in this particular episode of the series, they focused on Open ROV, a company of engineers that sells the kits to create remote-controlled submarines.

Big Picture had an episode about mapping the world and a lot of new technology involved in that,” Fleming said. “Then they interviewed people from Open ROV about their interest in exploring the marine environment using unmanned vehicles.  From there I saw this little submarine they were using.” 

Currently, the submarine is at version 2.8, which Fleming says requires the buyer to build the machine; however, he said the company is set to release a pre- built submarine in summer 2017.

The invention makes “underwater exploration possible for everyone,” according to Fleming.

“As a scientist, I study underwater plants,” he said. “But we’ve always had to conduct research from the surface. This submarine changes that.”

Fleming said now he can take the submarine down and look at the plants in their natural habitat, how they grow, what they look like in a group, etc. However, Fleming said his new submarine isn’t just for him or the geography department. The next steps are to get more people involved.

“You know I could see this being a neat piece of equipment for HCI/UX,” he said. “Biology may want to use it. The possibilities are endless and it’s relatively affordable and easy to build.”

Fleming said the machine costs around $1,000, and the building process took around 40 hours to complete. And that’s not counting the time it took him and his wife to untangle the 100-foot cable that is used to tether it and send information. Moreover, he said he had some unexpected setbacks.

“My cat never chews through anything, so this wasn’t something I would’ve expected.” Fleming said. “But the machine wouldn’t power on and after multiple hours of trouble shooting, we finally figured out the cat had chewed through the cable.” 

In addition to the assembly, Fleming said he is still getting used to the driving style of the submarine.  He said the current system allows you to drive the vehicle through a Google Chrome browser from your computer screen or using a game controller. The computer provides a screen that has you looking through the cockpit of the submarine, which Fleming said can be challenging. 

“Driving in a car, it’s easy to stop and turn on a dime. But this is kind of like an airplane, you’re constantly moving and can’t stop instantly,” Fleming said. “So it’s a bit harder to navigate and turn. I tend to stay at a mid-level which makes it a little easier.” 

Fleming said he’s getting better at driving the vehicle. He said he’s also very excited about the new technology and the opportunities it provides when it comes to learning about marine life. 

“I’m trying to get people who are interested,” Fleming said. 

Purchasing equipment for the ROV was made possible through a research grant from UNA’s Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost.

For more information on Geography at UNA: https://www.una.edu/geography/

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