What happens when you combine engineering genius with philanthropy? You get an explosion of citizen scientists and explorers!

Recently reported in Fast Company, the first OpenROV underwater drone prototypes were built in a garage by two friends. A Kickstarter campaign helped them raise nearly $1 million from 1,800 contributors.

Since OpenROV was founded in 2012, the low-cost underwater drone, known as the Trident, has made its way into the hands of thousands of citizen scientists and explorers who have used it to explore, study, document, and ultimately try to protect various underwater species and their habitats.

“We have always been idealists in wanting to use technology to really help connect people to the natural world,” says OpenROV co-founder David Lang. “[We’re] doing that not with a lecture on what’s important, but by giving people the thrill of exploration.”

National Geographic is so impressed with the idea that the company has partnered with OpenROV and James Cameron’s Avatar Alliance Foundation to launch the Science Exploration Education Initiative to make underwater drones affordable and accessible to everyone. Through this initiative, 1,000 underwater drones will be donated to nonprofits, schools, and activists interested in documenting their adventures on Open Explorer, an online field journal that publicly maps where each project is located and lets groups post updates about observations there. Open Explorer gives people a place to share their stories of adventure and exploration.

Anyone interested in applying for a Trident should visit the Science Exploration Education Initiative home page, sign up to start an expedition, and then share more about how they’ll use the underwater drone. Several dozen groups have already received the underwater drones and are chronicling their efforts.