Qysea, one of the only robotics companies pushing the envelope for underwater drones, has a new modular, AI-equipped, underwater robot that gets almost everything right. The camera, though, leaves something to be desired.
Over the last few years, the popularity of aerial drones has slowed down as the technology in them has somewhat plateaued and the rules and regulations for flying them have made it less fun and exciting for hobbyists. Perhaps that’s why stories of underwater drone advancements have piqued the interests of photographers.
Unfortunately, there are issues with underwater drones that make it more difficult to develop them. For starters, radio signals travel poorly underwater, meaning drones need to be physically tethered to the surface. Cameras also tend to look mediocre under the surface, although action camera companies have seemingly found a way to account for this.
Whatever the case, few manufacturers are pushing the envelope in underwater drones, which is what makes Qysea’s Fifish line so appealing. The company has been releasing new underwater drones regularly over the last few years and the latest, the Fifish E-Go, is perhaps the most exciting.
It features an entirely modular design with detachable components for the motor, lighting, camera, and battery. It can even be equipped with tools, like a big claw. If something breaks or if a new part needs to be swapped in, the company says it can be done in a matter of minutes. It even supports hot-swappable batteries that support fast charging and can reach 90% capacity in 50 minutes.
Qysea says the Fifish E-GO’s ring-wing motors provide added power, enabling the machine to achieve underwater speeds of over three knots while maintaining rugged resistance to underwater currents.
It even looks neat, with a design inspired by a hammerhead shark. Qysea also equipped the underwater drone with some impressive-sounding AI technology. Called AI Vision Lock, the E-Go has adaptive stabilization and can lock onto target objects underwater with just the tap of a button on the drone’s control screen.
It also has an onboard algorithm that filters plankton out to optimize visuals, which makes the water appear clearer.
Unfortunately, the camera system Qysea launched the E-Go with isn’t particularly exciting. While it is the first 176-degree ultra-wide fisheye lens found on an underwater drone — which delivers a 146-degree ultra-wide field of view– it’s attached to a rather small Type 1/1.8 sensor. To compare to a sensor size most photographers are more familiar with, a Type 1/1.8 sensor is about three times smaller than a Type 1 sensor (often referred to as 1-inch). That’s tiny even if it were being used on a bright, clear day above the surface. There is only so much that can be achieved with a sensor this small and it’s going to be outclassed by even many smartphone cameras.
While sure, this small sensor is helped by the fact the E-Go has the ability to use a lighting system that can blast 10,000 lumens of light wider than the camera’s field of view, that will wipe-out the look of the natural environment.
That means the E-Go is really not great for photographers and filmmakers looking to produce art and is more of a practical tool for operating underwater. That, likely, makes more sense from a selling standpoint for Qysea because it’s a more proven market, but it’s hard not to wish there was something more here to entice artists. It’s why the AI algorithms and modularity are specifically marketed towards monitoring and measuring environments.
But imagine the possibilities of a bigger sensor mixed with the lock-on capabilities, visual filter, and powerful motor onboard the E-Go. With the right combination of optics and sensor, this drone could capture really great footage of life below the surface. Luckily, the design of the E-Go means that if Qysea wanted to, it could make a set of modules designed specifically for underwater capture.
There is a desire for underwater robotics that are approachable in price and easy to use. While the E-Go isn’t cheap by any means — it’s a $7,348 drone — it is a lot more affordable than high-end cinema robots like the BoxFish Luna. It’s also much easier to operate.
There has to be some middle ground between these two extremes, and hopefully Qysea sees it and can deliver a solution.
Image credits: Qysea