A Mars Mobile for Professional Underwater Missions: The Diving Drone Notilo From Seasam

notilo plus seasam underwater drone
Underwater drone Seasam Notilo Plus | © Romaine Lamarche / Seasam

The trained eye recognizes professionals immediately. Not only, but also on the equipment. This also applies to the underwater drone segment. The Notilo Seasam is probably one of the most professional solutions currently available for underwater photography in the world. Martin P. Leuzinger and Basil Wunderlin from Light + Byte were able to test the drone in France and share their experiences here.

Martin, head of a company for solutions in the field of photography and video, had been looking for an underwater drone that could meet the highest demands for quite some time. Today, with the company Light + Byte, he is the exclusive partner for Switzerland of the manufacturer Seasam, which builds the Notilo. How this cooperation came about and why he wanted to test the underwater drone in advance – and together with his colleague and drone specialist Basil – in detail, Martin and Basil tell here in the interview.

The underwater drone Notilo Seasam

The Seasam Notilo Plus is the world’s first hybrid system that can be used as both a wireless autonomous underwater drone and remotely controlled by cable. The drone combines high-end hardware with specially developed software and, by means of AI (artificial intelligence), is capable of tracking targets underwater independently and easily, or of automatically working through and documenting pre-programmed dive routes.

© Foto: Light + Byte

A bunch of image crazies, with great passion for photography, lots of know-how and inspiration, best equipment, coolest gadgets and regular events. This is how operational CEO Martin Leuzinger and Delegate of the Supervisory Board describes Light + Byte, a company founded in 1992. Martin is the proud father of three children, loves cooking, travelling and beautiful things.

Light + Byte is a solution provider and partner of professional photographers and videographers, industry and public enterprises. Special attention is paid to offering complete solutions along the entire workflow.

© Foto: Light + Byte

Basil Wunderlin is an ambitious glider pilot and snowboarder, he flies drones, specializes in video and audio at Light + Byte and – importantly – mixes good cocktails.

Basil is a trained photographic technician EFZ and owner completed his two-year training at the SAE Institute with a diploma in film/video and animation as well as photographic arts. His motto: “I give everything for the perfect picture”.

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Filmpuls: In the newsletter of Light + Byte, in which you announce the underwater drone Notilo plus, it literally says: “For a long time we were looking for a professional underwater drone”. Can we conclude that the demand has been there for some time, but no drones for sub-surface use?

Martin P. Leuzinger:We were convinced that there are professional applications for an underwater drone and that there must be a corresponding demand for it. We reviewed a Chinese product last year. The feedback from our own employees was very cautious about this product. It was difficult to set up, not stable to use, and constantly disconnected.

Filmpuls:So that’s why you gave away underwater drones?

Martin P. Leuzinger:No, that was different: we made an appeal to our customers to test the underwater drone. With this promotion we promised an underwater drone as a thank you for participating in the test. Unfortunately, and despite this, the feedback here was also sobering: the underwater drone was a toy at best, but even as such it was no fun. However, from the numerous reactions of our customers, we were able to identify the various fields of application, which motivated us to continue our search for a professional underwater drone. With Notilo Seasam we found what we were looking for.

Filmpuls:What does a professional drone have to do in underwater use?

Basil Wunderlin: I think basically it depends on the application what an underwater drone has to do. Generally speaking, it should be easy and intuitive to use and control. The user should be able to fully rely on the device. Whether it is controlled or automatically follows a diver, reliability is paramount.

Filmpuls:You have tested the drone extensively: In the indoor pool? In the Swiss Alps in a reservoir?

Basil Wunderlin:An indoor swimming pool would not have been sufficient for us as a test! It would be like testing a car under laboratory conditions. Together with the Notilo team we were outside of Lyon at a quarry pond, which is usually used by divers. In the quarry pond, underneath various buoys, there are objects such as ships, bombs and other items that are usually explored by divers. For us, it was the ideal place to test the underwater drone for ourselves.

The Notilo can dive up to 100 meters deep and this with XL batteries up to a maximum duration of 4 hours.
Basil Wunderlin

Filmpuls:How much time do you have to calculate until you master the Notilo?

Martin P. Leuzinger:In principle, the drone is ready for use without training. However, a short introduction of 2 to 3 hours is definitely helpful. Basil is a skilled drone pilot and so it was clear that he got to grips with the underwater drone very quickly. The real acid test was with myself. I’ve never flown a drone before. I had the underwater drone under control after 5 minutes. I was able to drive to a buoy on my own, dive down 15 meters along the chain to inspect the sunken object on the bottom. We were both more than surprised at how clear and good the image quality was even far below the water level.

Film pulse:The Notilo plus is “controlled by state-of-the-art AI”. What does that mean in concrete terms?

Basil Wunderlin:Notilo Cloud uses artificial intelligence in the form of neural networks, which are used to analyze and classify data based on its source. For example, cloud-based software can easily identify underwater biofouling (unwanted buildup of organisms on underwater surfaces; ed.) of a ship’s hull by analyzing footage from an inspection. It is also very adaptable when it comes to classification; if there is geolocation data from the inspection, it will even create a map of the ship’s hull and map the images to its position on that map. Notilo Cloud works with far more data than that captured by Seasam under water.

The underwater drone Notilo | © Video: seasam.notiloplus.com

Video Unterwasserdrohne Notilo von Seasam

Film pulse:Are there opportunities for training in the use of the underwater drone?

Basil Wunderlin:That is part of our offer. Those who decide to buy a Notilo Seasam underwater drone can book training with Basil. Those who are still unsure can also book a test with Basil and also rent the underwater drone.

Film Pulse:The acquisition cost is in the five-figure range for this drone. With costs like that, it’s more likely to be bought by industrial clients for control / monitoring tasks than video productions?

Martin P. Leuzinger:Industrial customers, maritime police, the military, environmental organizations, agencies in the field of water – that is our primary target group. The drone can be used to search for objects or to inspect underwater structures such as bridge piers or dam walls, for example. Boat yards can also greatly simplify the inspection of a vessel. Divers and diving schools can use the underwater drone excellently for documentation, especially for training purposes.

Notilo Seasam is already in use in the film industry and not just for documentaries. That’s all I’m allowed to say.
Martin P. Leuzinger

Filmpuls:Top professionals like the drone specialists from Dedicam in Meiringen, who also work in Hollywood, always work as a team: one person flies, the other operates the camera. How many people are needed for the Notilo plus?

Martin P. Leuzinger:The underwater drone with its built-in camera is designed to be controlled by one person. In this application, only the built-in camera (1/2.8″ CMOS sensor) is used, which is completely sufficient for documentation. For professional filming, additional camera systems can be docked to the underwater drone.

Film Pulse:Is Hollywood working with underwater drones? If you’ve ever witnessed the enormous effort that famous underwater cameramen like Mike Valentine and their team have to put into perfect shots, would such a drone be the only obvious conclusion – at least for producers?

Martin P. Leuzinger:Yes, the underwater film industry is very interested in Notilo Plus drones! With it, stable shots are achieved underwater and underwater shooting and filming requires less manpower, even for complex film scenes. Seasam is already in use in the film industry – we can’t say the title of the film yet, but a drone was used to film the entire movie. It has also been used for documentaries, for example by the very talented team of Behind The Mask – directed by Florian Fischer – and for a documentary where Seasam was used to explore the flooded pyramid of Hawara in Egypt.

Notilo from Seasam during a mission | © Photos: seasam.notiloplus.com

Filmpuls:Is it possible to buy the Notilo plus from you only or to rent it as well?

Basil Wunderlin: Definitely, the underwater drone can be rented from us. This is also a good way to test the drone.

This underwater drone is less of a gadget and more of a highly professional workhorse.
Martin P. Leuzinger

Filmpuls:What if the quality of Full HD 1080p (30 FPS) is not sufficient for my application? Are there options?

Basil Wunderlin:Additional camera systems can be attached to the underwater drone. Then the built-in camera serves as an eye for the person piloting the drone, while the docked camera takes the high-resolution shots.

Filmpuls:You strongly emphasize that the Notilo plus can be configured as desired.

Basil Wunderlin:Notilo Plus ensures that the drone is adapted to the task it is supposed to perform. Various battery sizes, cable lengths, geolocation options, image recognition functions…. And of course, we also offer the possibility of developing a custom project, for a tailor-made application that is not covered by the standard options.

Filmpuls:What do I have to imagine by Seasam Sensor Hub?

Basil Wunderlin:The Sensor Hub is used by Seasam to synchronize and collect data from third-party sensors. Its electronic interface allows them to be connected and their data collected via a single cable. For example, the Oculus Blueview acoustic camera or the EXO2 water quality sensor are used today by some of our customers with specific requirements.

Film pulse:As a rule, an Open Water Diver is allowed to dive up to 18 meters below the water surface, a specially trained expert even up to 40 meters depth. Where is the limit for the Notilo?

Basil Wunderlin:The drone can dive down to 100 meters. The batteries, of course, need to be replaced on the surface; the standard battery lasts up to one hour, the L-series up to 2 hours and the XL batteries last up to 4 hours.

Filmpuls:Basically, the rule for underwater drones used to be: Cable (“tethered”) is safer than radio. The underwater drone Notilo plus can be used hybrid: Cable or radio. What is recommended when?

Martin P. Leuzinger:If I control the underwater drone from land or from a ship, it is connected by cable. If I am in the water as a diver, she follows me by radio.

Filmpuls:Stability is always an issue for cameras of any kind in water, where there can be strong currents.

Basil Wunderlin:The drone can withstand a current of up to 1m/s. And it can be upgraded to withstand even tougher conditions.

Filmpuls:What was the most surprising experience you had during testing?

Martin P. Leuzinger:We were surprised by the simplicity of the controls and the incredible stability of the underwater drone.

Many underwater drones are toys at best compared to the Notilo, and still no fun.
Martin P. Leuzinger

Filmpuls:Are there any tips and tricks you would like to recommend to professionals who use underwater drones?

Basil Wunderlin:Using an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehivle) can be scary at first, but Seasam is very easy to operate, even if you’ve never piloted an ROV before. One tip is to use the locking features, such as the depth lock and the wall distance lock, which further simplifies the operation. Another tip is to always remember where you’re going when steering to make sure the cable doesn’t get tangled in an obstacle. To return to the surface, it is best to follow the cable – if you follow it, you will get back to your starting point. Last but not least, it is very important to rinse the drone in clear water after using it in the ocean to prevent salt buildup!

Underwater drone Notilo | © Photos: seasam.notiloplus.com

Filmpuls:Can you tell us something about the manufacturing company Seasam?

Martin P. Leuzinger: In 2016, Notilo Plus was founded in Lyon, France, by Nicolas Gambini. With an initial proof of concept, the company launched its crowdfunding campaign to fund the development and industrialization of its first product, iBubble. The concept of iBubble was simple: an autonomous underwater drone that can track and record divers. In just two years, the startup managed to design, develop and mass produce the drone, which was finally launched in late 2018. Thanks to many ambassadors from the diving, freediving and business communities, iBubble was a hit in the diving world, with hundreds of drones shipped all over the world. Notilo Plus was then ready to work on their next project: an industrial A.U.V. (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) called Seasam. In addition to this industrial drone, the company focused its research and development on artificial intelligence and underwater data collection. The company has grown over the years and now has 30 employees.

Filmpuls:How did Light + Byte come to work with Seasam?

Martin P. Leuzinger:We approached the company. And we were already more than happy in November 2020 that we were able to drive to Lyon to see them at all, due to Corona, in Lyon is a part of the development of Notilo. There we met some of the crew and were able to test the underwater drone ourselves. Today we are the exclusive partner for Switzerland.

Filmpuls:Nicolas Gambini, the CEO and founder of Seasam, comes from a management consulting background. He used to work for Renault on electric vehicles before starting his start-up. Does the underwater drone mirror this origin?

Martin P. Leuzinger:We know that the drone is assembled in the north of France, in the heart of the automotive industry. So I assume that Gambini was able to make good use of his past network.

Filmpuls:You also have classic multicopter drones from DJI in your range? To conclude this interview, here’s a question you don’t tend to ask professionals, after all, work is always about getting a job done, but still: what’s more fun as a “pilot”, flying drone or underwater drone?

Martin P. Leuzinger:The question is indeed unfair. The underwater drone is of course much slower compared to a classic multicopter drone. In my opinion, the interest behind it is more decisive: If you want “fun”, you are probably better off with a multicopter drone. If you are fascinated by the depths of a lake or sea with the creatures and treasures at the bottom, you will hotly love the underwater drone. But as we noted at the beginning of the interviews, this underwater drone is less of a gadget and more of a professional workhorse that can do a lot of useful work “remotely.”

We thank Martin and Basil for the interview. This article was written without compensation or payment of any kind. The initiative for the interview came from the editorial team, who forwarded the Light + Byte newsletter announcing the Seasam Notilo to Filmpuls via a photographer. Here you can find more about drones.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

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