The following guest post reviewing the Gladius Mini underwater drone was written by Aaron Parnell, owner and Chief Pilot of Unmanned Aerial Operations, an aerial imaging, aerial video and drone mapping company based in North Carolina.
The Gladius Mini is a compact underwater drone designed for underwater photographers — and it could prove to be a valuable tool for some small businesses — or perhaps a neat new item to try for a drone enthusiast looking to explore worlds underneath us rather than purely above.
Currently underwater drones, often referred to as ROVs, make up a far smaller market than aerial drones, or UAVs. There are only a few, relatively-small players in the space, including PowerVision, which makes the PowerRay — an underwater drone released back in 2017. Then, there’s a competitor called the Gladius Mini, which is built by Shenzhen, China-based Chasing Innovations. This underwater drone sets itself apart from the (albeit small underwater drone) crowd in its camera quality, its mobility, its speed and even its price point.
While the Gladius Mini primarily is marketed toward amateur photographers, underwater drones can be an all-purpose tool for people working in and near water. They serve functional uses, such as for people who need to inspect their boats or fishermen looking to scout out fish. Underwater drones could be a mechanism for hopeful kids looking for sunken treasure, or perhaps people who just want to see underwater life but aren’t able to physically get underwater themselves. And if you’ve got a curiosity for what lives underwater, this drone might be for you.
Gladius Mini in a nutshell
The Gladius Mini underwater drone piqued my interest after I was searching out underwater drones, prioritizing a balance of versatility and affordability. As with any technology, it can be tempting to buy the cheapest option, but — especially with underwater drone technology — you pay for what you get: poor mobility, poor visibility and poor parts. This is not the case with the Gladius Mini.
When I first opened my Gladius Mini, I was blown away by the professional grade feel of the materials of the make, as well as all the parts that made the drone tick. The underwater drone comes with a zipper case, remote controller, and a few smaller accessories, such as a mount for the iPad/tablet. You’ll need a smartphone, iPad or other tablet to run it which is not included.
The remote and base station are hard plastic and are “ruggedized” for outdoor conditions. They feel sturdy, are water-resistant and can take most drops without any damage.
Then there’s the Gladius Mini and the tether. In stark contrast to the “light as a feather” nature of many aerial drones, the Gladius Mini is not light, weighing just under 5 pounds and stands in stark contrast to the “light as a feather” nature of many aerial drones. It makes sense, given that aerial drones fly, and this one dives.
How deep does it dive? The drone itself has a maximum depth of 330 ft (100 m). However, the depth potential of the Gladius Mini depends on the length of your tether. The standard tether for the Gladius Mini is a lengthy 328 feet, which is about the same height as the Chicago Water Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. Though, at a depth of 328 feet, it’s likely the visibility would be so low that there wouldn’t be a point in sending your drone down there. However, length gives you the ability to travel far away from your boat, dock, or shoreline.
It sells for $1,199 on major retailers including Amazon and B&H Photo, though it’s pretty common to find it on sale for $999.
Setting up the Gladius Mini underwater drone
Setting up the Gladius Mini is one of the biggest drawbacks of this underwater drone. Once you’ve done it once, it’s a breeze, but the initial setup is far from that.
You’ll first need to have the drone and the base station charged. Then, you’ll need to unravel the tether, connect it to the base station. The other end of the tether connects to the port atop the Gladius Mini.
Once connected, power on the base station to boot up the drone (you’ll know it’s one when the drone’s lights flash).
You’ll need to download the Chasing Go 2 app, which you can find on the Apple App Store, or Google Play Store. After downloading, you’ll login, connect to the base station and turn the remote on. Now you’ll be presented with the camera’s view.
The Gladius Mini camera
The 4K camera provides surprisingly impressive visibility and detail. The sensor is larger than most drone cameras, allowing for detail even at long distances.
Here are some key camera specs:
- 1/2.3 inch CMOS:
- f3.0 lens with 95° FOV
- 4.0mm focus
- ISO Range: 100-3200
- Max. Photo Pixel: 12M(4000*3000)
- Video Resolution: 1920*1080 30fps, 1920*1080 60fps, 1920*1080 120fps or 3840*2160(4K) 30fps
Not only is the camera’s hardware impressive, but the color balance settings on the app allow you to change the blue color of the image, the red color of the image and the green color of the image. That’s important for ensuring quality footage depending on the water color.
You’re in brown water? Decrease the red and increase the blue. In the ocean? Decrease the blue and increase red. This makes for an impressively balanced image. This software is something I’ve never seen before in a camera. I’m thoroughly impressed.
The only drawback is that the camera is in a fixed position. This means you can’t turn the camera up, down or sideways. To look around, you’ll have to move the entire drone, which — while standard practice among ROV design — may be tough to get used to for aerial drone pilots.
Uploaded by Youtuber NorWrangler, here is an excellent sample of the footage from the Gladius Mini’s 4k camera in ocean water. (1) Gladius Mini ROV in southern Norway june 2022 – YouTube
The Gladius Mini has five propellers spanning from front to back. There are two forward thrusters positioned at the back of the drone. These allow for the drone to glide through the water, as well as reverse. The other propeller stationed between the back forward thrusters is a vertical propeller, along with the two vertical propellers positioned at the front of the drone. These allow the drone to ascend and descend in the water, as well as hold altitude.
This ROV roams around at speeds up to 4 Knots (2m/s).
A unique feature of this drone is the option for upward angled positioning of the drone while in the water. The front vertical thrusters will fire harder than the rear, lifting only the front. If you have a large boat, you’ll be able to inspect the hull with the Gladius Mini.
The battery of the drones is impressive as well, boasting up to two hours when you’re traveling forward at low speed. Otherwise, it’s 40 minutes when traveling forward at high speed (or perhaps somewhere in the middle, depending on how fast you’re going. It’ll take about 90 minutes to charge the drone back up again.
Additionally, the tether that connects the Gladius Mini to the base station is a strong cord that serves as backup, should the drone run out of battery before it can return to home, or if it otherwise gets disconnected. It is secured tightly to both the drone and base station, allowing you to gently pull it back to the surface if necessary
The base station is an incredible piece of equipment. Its main purpose is to transmit signals over Bluetooth to and from the remote controller, down the tether to the Gladius Mini.
The base station includes two media ports. One is an SD card slot to record the footage and photos from your mission. The other is an HDMI port that allows you to stream your Gladius Mini’s visuals to a TV, laptop or other media device.
Gladius Mini underwater drone: Is it worth it?
This drone is no joke, and — while it’s marketed at the hobby crowd — it is a tool, not a toy.
It’s also relatively affordable at a $1,199 price point, though you may be able to buy it even cheaper.I got mine lightly used, so — while the price point of $1,199 may be too high for some — the price I paid of $600 made it even more palatable. This isn’t to say it’s not worth $1,199. But unless you plan on using it often or have hefty disposable income, you may want to spend your money elsewhere.
While it may not be a submarine you can climb in, the Gladius Mini allows the pilot to enter the realm of the water for hours. Not being a scuba diver, this was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had. I’ll most likely be purchasing goggles for the Gladius Mini for further immersion, which are standard HDMI FPV Goggles that connect to the base station’s HDMI port. These goggles can range in price from $150 dollars to $500 dollars.
I’m impressed, I’m satisfied, but most of all, I had a ton of fun.
-By Aaron Parnell owner and Chief Pilot of Unmanned Aerial Operations
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