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New Bedford's Aquabotix preparing to launch underwater bot for wanna-be Bob Ballards

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 26, 2011 10:36 AM

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HydroView.jpgPerhaps you've dreamed of exploring the briny deep, but don't have the scratch to buy a private submersible of your own, like Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. And maybe you don't want to ditch your day job and devote your life to undersea adventures, like Bob Ballard.

A New Bedford start-up, Aquabotix, thinks it has the answer to your dilemma. This fall, the company will start shipping the HydroView, an eight-pound underwater robot with twin props, a top speed of three knots, a high-def camera, and LED illumination. You control the $2995 Hydroview with your mobile phone or iPad (you can also use a boring old laptop, too.) Tilt the device forward or to the right, and the Hydroview swims in that direction. You can also upload photos and videos of your journeys to Facebook or YouTube. If Captain Nemo had lived in the social media era, this is the Nautilus he would've designed.

Aquabotix founder Durval Tavares, a former employee of both Fidelity Investments and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, says that the HydroView isn't just for boaters who want to hunt for shipwrecks or buried treasure. "A friend of mine had gone around the world on a sailboat, and he said he never had a restful night's sleep. He was always worried about whether his anchor was well set," Tavares says. "Boaters also worry about whether their propeller or the bottom of the boat has hit something. So we started thinking, what if you had a device that would let you do a safety check on the bottom of your boat?"

In addition to the HydroView, Aquabotix is developing the Aqualens (pictured at left), an underwater video camera that can be maneuvered using pole. (Aqualens has no propulsion system of its own.) It streams live video to an included 3.5-inch LCD screen, as opposed to your own device. But it is less expensive than HydroView, at $795. And while HydroView won't ship until November, Tavares says the Aqualens will be available early next month. The company first showed the two products earlier this month at the Newport International Boat Show in Rhode Island.

AquaLens.jpg"Recreational marine is the primary market," says Tavares. "But people have been talking to us about other uses, like boat inspections for insurance companies or companies that do underwater construction. It can be a lot cheaper than having a diver go down into the water, and it's a much more appealing option when the water is freezing. We've also had some marinas ask us about renting it out to people, maybe just for having some fun looking at sealife."

The petite HydroView is just 19 inches long and 14 inches wide. It can run for two hours on its batteries. A cable sends commands to the underwater craft, and an optional extended wire will give it a range of up to 300 feet. (A 50-foot cable comes with the product.) It can operate at depths of up to 75 feet.

Amazingly, Tavares started the company in March, and plans to ship Aquabotix's first product just seven months later. The company's only outside funding came in the form of a $400,000 loan from the Fall River Office of Economic Development.

Tavares says the company will assemble both products in Massachusetts. "Some of our electronics are being built in New Hampshire, and the injection molding is being done in Worcester. We're trying to use local infrastructure when we can."

Mariners, what do you think: pricey toys or useful tools?

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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