While there are already several camera-equipped underwater drones that allow you peek beneath the surface of your local waterways, they pretty much all have a couple of things in common – they’re propeller-driven, and they’re controlled via a physical tether that reaches to the surface. BIKI, however, is a bit different. It’s wirelessly controlled, and it “swims” by moving its fish-like tail.
When near the surface, BIKI can be controlled in real time via an iOS/Android app on the user’s smartphone, which also displays a live feed from the drone’s integrated 4K/30fps camera. If it’s going deeper, however, it either has to follow a dive route that’s been preprogrammed on the app, or it can be controlled in real time using a waterproof handheld remote that sends acoustic signals through the water.
Although the drone itself can go down to 196 ft (60 m), its remote has a control range of 33 ft (10 m). This means that if users want to control it in real time any deeper than 33 feet, they’ll have to put on scuba gear and go down there with it.
It should also be noted that once it goes deep, users will no longer be able to receive its live video feed. Although video will still be recorded on its 32GB of internal memory, that footage will have to be viewed after the dive. Two 114-lumen spotlights help illuminate whatever’s down there.
And while it’s underwater, it can keep from running into things via an infrared obstacle avoidance system. Additionally, as it’s equipped with GPS, it can automatically return to its launch point if it loses contact with its operator. One charge of its battery should be good for a claimed 90 to 120 minutes of use.
But … what’s up with that tail? According to BIKI’s manufacturer, Beijing-based Robosea, the technology is actually spun off of a Peking University system developed for underwater robots exploring Antarctica. Its main advantage over propellers is that it’s much quieter, so it’s not as likely to scare off aquatic life. As a side benefit, there’s also no chance of it cutting fingers or toes when used in a pool.
Although an integrated IMU (inertial measurement unit) does help the drone to remain upright while in use, it still tends to wiggle from side to side as it swims along at 1.12 mph (1.8 km/h). This shouldn’t show up in the video, though, as a stabilization system automatically pans and tilts the wide-angle camera to compensate.
If you’re interested in getting a BIKI of your own, it’s currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. A pledge of US$599 will get you one, when and if it reaches production. The planned retail price is $1,024.
You can see it in action, in the following video.