How to Build a DIY Underwater Robot for Detecting Ocean Pollution


Ocean pollution is a growing problem that threatens marine ecosystems. Plastic waste, chemical runoff, and other debris can harm wildlife and damage habitats. Building your own underwater robot is an engaging way to get involved in detecting ocean pollution. In this guide, I will walk through the full process of constructing a do-it-yourself underwater drone from start to finish.

Choosing a Frame

The frame is the foundation of your underwater robot. It houses all of the components and allows you to configure the shape and size. Here are some good options for DIY frames:

PVC Pipe Frame

Construct a simple cubic or tubular frame out of PVC pipes and joints. Glue the parts together using PVC cement. Make sure the structure is sealed to be watertight.

Acrylic Sheet Frame

Laser cut a box frame out of clear acrylic sheets. Use acrylic cement to fuse the pieces together at the joints. Apply sealant to make the frame watertight.

Waterproof Enclosure

Repurpose a plastic waterproof enclosure as the frame, like a junction box or tool case. The box just needs to fit all your components inside.

Selecting Thrusters

Thrusters propel your underwater robot through the water. More thrusters allow for greater maneuverability.

Brushless Motors

Brushed Motors

Bilge Pump Thrusters

Ideally use 4+ thrusters positioned in different orientations for full range of motion. Make sure the thrusters are properly sealed.

Choosing a Power Source

Having sufficient onboard power is crucial for your robot to operate underwater.

Lithium Polymer Batteries

Alkaline Batteries

Use a watertight enclosure or sealing tape to protect the batteries. Calculate your expected power budget based on your components. Have 20-30% extra capacity.

Assembling the Electronics

Here are some key electronic components you will need:

Solder components together on a protoboard or custom PCB. Enclose all electronics in a watertight compartment sealed with silicone.

Programming the Robot

Use a coding platform like Arduino IDE to program the robot's logic and behaviors. Key things to code:

Test the code thoroughly above water before deploying underwater. Make sure you can establish wireless control and receive sensor data.

Assembling the Robot

Once you have all the pieces ready, it's time to assemble your underwater robot:

Double check the assembly for any potential leaks before deploying underwater.

Testing and Launching

Start testing in a pool or other calm, controlled environment:

Once core functionality is confirmed, you're ready to deploy your DIY underwater robot to start detecting ocean pollution! Monitor live sensor data and captured images as your robot dives into the depths.


Building an underwater drone takes planning, effort, and testing, but the end result is an awesome ocean pollution detector you created yourself. As you use your robot to investigate underwater environments, you may get ideas for improvements and new features to add on the next version. The ocean needs diligent monitoring to reduce pollution, and DIY underwater robots are an impactful way to get involved.