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The University Magazine

21st century technology leads to discovery of 18th century shipwreck


Dan Scoville ’05

Technology that began life as a project by a group of RIT engineering majors has reached new heights – and depths.         

A remote-operated vehicle (ROV), designed to help underwater explorers discover shipwrecks by going deeper than recreational divers, led Dan Scoville ’05 (electrical engineering) in June to theHMS Ontario, a British warship that sank in Lake Ontario more than two centuries ago.          

Using side-scan sonar technology, Scoville and his deep-water exploration partner, Jim Kennard, had been searching for the Revolutionary War-era ship for about three years. (For Kennard, his quest for theOntario began more than three decades ago.) The pair had previously discovered seven other shipwrecks off the southern shore of Lake Ontario.

Three years ago, a team of Kate Gleason College of Engineering students, working with Scoville, designed and built an ROV for a multidisciplinary senior-design project. Like the one that found theOntario, the device was equipped with high-intensity lighting and video cameras – and its original technology was key in the latest discovery.

“The RIT ROV team’s work is still very much a part of the current ROV design,” says Scoville, who is now a project manager and electrical engineer for the remote-operated vehicle product line at Hydroacoustics Inc. in Henrietta, N.Y. “The ROV uses much of the base software that was written by the ROV team, as well as the electrical circuits.”          

In fact, Hydroacoustics gave a larger budget to Scoville and other members of the RIT team, including Matt Paluch ’06 (electrical engineering), Josh Figler ’06 (computer engineering) and Jason Caulk ’06 (electrical engineering), and asked them to refine original designs.          


A cannon is visible on the bow of the Revolutionary War-era British Warship HMS Ontario, discovered in June at the bottom of Lake Ontario by Dan Scoville ’05. Scoville used an ROV—short for remote-operated vehicle—and technology originally developed by a team of RIT engineering students. (Photo by Dan Scoville ’05)

“This team has moved the ROV from a student project to a commercial product,” says Scoville.          

TheHMS Ontario and as many as 120 passengers were lost in a violent gale on Oct. 31, 1780. Previously regarded as a Holy Grail among lost vessels in the Great Lakes, it was located between the Niagara River and Rochester at a depth of about 500 feet. The craft, in remarkably good condition considering its age and fate 228 years ago, partially rests on one side.          

“After many years of work and lots of money, it was a relief to see all the pieces come together and the goal realized,” says Scoville about the discovery. With a touch of melancholy, he adds that theOntario, the oldest confirmed shipwreck in the Great Lakes, is probably the most important find of his lifetime – suggesting that, at only 35 years old, he has already reached a pinnacle.

But for those like Scoville – passionate in attaining their goals – it’s a vast world filled with as-yet-unknown new pinnacles at even greater heights (and sometimes depths). That just might be Scoville’s next “discovery.”

Michael Saffran ’08

Web links:

To hear an interview with Scoville, visit

For an in-depth account of Scoville and Kennard’s discovery of the HMS Ontario, visit:

For video footage of the discovery of the HMS Ontario, visit:

To read an earlier story in RIT: The Alumni Magazine about the RIT multidisciplinary engineering senior design project, visit: