4 Aug 2006 tbenedict   » (Master)

I'm starting a new project: a sub-miniature ROV. I can't call it a nano ROV since I'm using Mabuchi 130 motors on it, and not something smaller like a pager motor. But it's certainly smaller than the PVC-framed ROVs most people are making.

The idea behind the project is simple: I want to make something for under $30 US that anyone else with some pocket change could make. I got the idea after visiting the Robert Gordon University web site and seeing the RGU ROV kit picture on this page:


They use larger motors than I'm looking at, and I'll probably use styrofoam fishing floats instead of film cans, but the framework idea is brilliant. It's made from 1/4" irrigation parts from the hardware store.

I ordered the propellers from Tower Hobbies for $1.05 apiece (I ordered six, but only plan to use three). The motors are 1st Gen Stage 2 XMods motors from Radio Shack. They're being discontinued and are discounted. Basically it's four 130-frame sized 30kRPM 6v motors for ten bucks.

I'd describe the rest of it, but there's really not much to it once the motors and props are mounted. The one real catch is the props have a 1/8" bore and the motors have a 2mm shaft. I've got a lathe at home and plenty of Delrin rod so making shaft adapters is a no-brainer. I can't offer an easy source for them to people who read this, but for the robot club in town I'll offer sets of three to anyone willing to build one of these beasties.

Initially I was looking at building dry enclosures for the motors, or building oil-filled pressure compensated enclosures. But there's a fellow in the UK who did saltwater testing on bare Mabuchi motors, and found that if you're careful to spray them out with WD-40 to displace the water after use, they really don't wear all that fast. For the sake of simplicity and the sake of not scaring people off from doing this build, I'm going with bare motors as well, just like the RGU ROV.

As I said earlier, this is just a first step. It's a demonstration project to get people in our local club into the idea of building ROVs (and other robots!) on the cheap. I don't plan on mounting any cameras or lights on the thing. I expect the biggest adventure it'll ever go on will be in a small aquarium (without the fish) or a bathtub.

But once I find enough people willing to build one of these I'm going to spring the idea of a larger ROV on them. Bilge pump motors are sealed, and the impeller assemblies can be cut away to expose the motor shaft for mounting larger propellers on. There's a wealth of information available on ROVs at this scale, so building a platform to take cameras, lights, manipulators, thermometers, depth gauges, etc. should be entirely doable.

I'll post more once the ROV starts to take shape.


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