From a garage to Swiss lakes and rivers: the story of Proteus, an underwater robot

01 November 2021

share this:

Proteus and sunset with the Swiss mountains in the background at Lake Thun (photo credit: Gallus Kaufmann)

In 2018, Christian Engler felt he’d studied enough theory at the ETH Zurich and longed to put it all into practice. It was evident to Christian that the best way to get hands-on experience was to start something himself. Others were not so sure. Especially when they heard about his ambition to revive a project from high school.

The project involved underwater robots, also known as Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). But now Christian wanted to step it up a gear. He not only wanted to build an ROV, but he also wanted to take part at the international MATE ROV Competition 2019 – the biggest ROV competition in the world. His passion motivated a further seven students and Tethys Robotics was born.

Start of the journey

To be able to compete at a high level, Tethys Robotics needed support. The main supporter was and still is Professor Siegwart and his Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL). Due to a previous project, SCUBO, the team had the chance to benefit from their experience and were able to use their carbon fibre shell to build their version of the underwater robot, the SCUBO 2.0.

SCUBO taking a sunbath at Lake Zurich (photo credit: Gallus Kaufmann)

While the original SCUBO was developed to film coral reefs, the new version of SCUBO had to be adapted to fulfil the tasks at the MATE ROV Competition. To prevent damaging the coral reefs, the original SCUBO had a different position and orientation of the eight actuators (also known as thrusters) at the cost of stability and control. Furthermore, no batteries were allowed at the competition inside of the robot. For that reason, the entire electronics, software interface and controlling had to be redesigned to be able to take part at the competition.

Essentially, the sensors of both SCUBO versions are the same consisting of Attitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS), pressure sensor, stereo camera and temperature sensor.

The only downside was that the ASL did not have enough space to accommodate us. Therefore, we ended up working in the lab’s basement. But this did not affect our motivation – now complete with ‘garage start-up’ vibe – or the successful outcome. Tethys Robotics was the first Swiss team ever to compete. Out of 75 teams, Tethys came in at 9th place.

Real world applications

After the competition, SCUBO 2.0 was showcased at various exhibitions. This is how we came across the divers from the Swiss Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), whose mission is to retrieve lost ammunition from Swiss lakes. Since this is a dangerous and very challenging task for divers, Tethys started collaborating on an underwater robot up to the task. The robot had to be modular, lightweight, and easily deployable. With the support of the ASL, the algorithms developed for drones have been implemented to the underwater drones of Tethys Robotics. And by having multiple tests at the operation site with the EOD divers and blank ammunition, the new underwater robot Proteus was developed with a real world application in mind. With their help, Proteus has been developed to be modular and more focused to be used as a diver buddy instead of working individually. In particular, the underwater drone can be used as a lift for material and as a communication device to the top side.

Challenges and future of Proteus

There have been many changes to the design and the application field between the competition robot and the new Proteus. Proteus is able to be deployed in every Swiss lake (+300 m depth rating) and is powered again, as the original SCUBO, by batteries. The communication and camera streams are transmitted via a fiber optics cable to a control station on the shore. Moreover, in addition to the sensors used in SCUBO, Proteus has been upgraded with sensors mainly used for localization and orientation underwater which consist of a sonar, Doppler Velocity Logger (DVL), acoustic Short Baseline system (SBL) and event cameras.

Proteus mission setup (photo credit: Gallus Kaufmann)

The current research focuses on the improvement of the underwater localization. The different sensors are not accurate, fast or robust enough to be used in Swiss lakes and in particular rivers. Therefore, a sensor fusion algorithm is being implemented to combine the advantages of the different sensors. Furthermore, Tethys Robotics is trying to find further applications and an appropriate market segment to position the developed underwater drones. By finding further partners and interest, the project could make the transition to a company and develop the prototypes to final products.


Andrej Studer is the Co-Founder and Robotics Engineer at Tethys Robotics, a student project in underwater technology
Andrej Studer is the Co-Founder and Robotics Engineer at Tethys Robotics, a student project in underwater technology

Related posts :

Unable to attend #ICRA2022 for accessibility issues? Or just curious to see robots?

There are many things that can make it difficult to attend an in person conference in the United States and so the ICRA Organizing Committee, the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society and OhmniLabs would like to help you attend ICRA virtually.
17 May 2022, by



Duckietown Competition Spotlight, with Dr Liam Paull

Dr. Liam Paull, cofounder of the Duckietown competition talks about the only robotics competition where Rubber Duckies are the passengers on an autonomous driving track.
17 May 2022, by

Designing societally beneficial Reinforcement Learning (RL) systems

In this post, we aim to illustrate the different modalities harms can take when augmented with the temporal axis of RL. To combat these novel societal risks, we also propose a new kind of documentation for dynamic Machine Learning systems which aims to assess and monitor these risks both before and after deployment.
15 May 2022, by

Innovative ‘smart socks’ could help millions living with dementia

‘Smart socks’ that track rising distress in the wearer could improve the wellbeing of millions of people with dementia, non-verbal autism and other conditions that affect communication.
13 May 2022, by

Swiss Robotics Day showcases innovations and collaborations between academia and industry

The 2021 Swiss Robotics Day marked the beginning of NCCR Robotics’s final year. The project, launched in 2010, is on track to meet all its scientific goals in the three areas of wearable, rescue and educational robotics, while continuing to focus on supporting spin-offs, advancing robotics education and improving equality of opportunities for all robotics researchers.
10 May 2022, by

Afreez Gan: Open Source Robot Dog, Kickstarter, and Home Robots | Sense Think Act Podcast #18

In this episode, Audrow Nash speaks to Afreez Gan, who is the founder and CEO of MangDang; MangDang is a Chinese startup that makes Minipupper, an open source robot dog that uses the Robot Operating S...

©2021 - ROBOTS Association


©2021 - ROBOTS Association