Tap to Read ➤

Exploring Earth's Last Frontier with ROVs

Around 70% of the Earth is covered by water. Huge pressures, limit the depths that you can reach in the water. So, ROVs are used.
Buzzle Staff Apr 29, 2019
When you think of a robot, what comes to mind? While the kind of self aware robots portrayed in science fiction movies seem to be a long way off, the fact is that robots have actually been used for years in a variety of scientific and industrial fields.
For example, automatic welding robots are commonly used in automobile manufacturing and other applications. Perhaps more interesting examples can be found among the robots used to explore and develop the Earth's last frontier.
The deep ocean has often been compared to outer space, and with good reason. In many ways, it is just as inaccessible, and dangerous, to humans. Yet some 70% of the Earth's surface is covered by water. While man has very thoroughly explored the 30% covered by land, in many ways, the oceans still remain a mystery.
When you consider that new plants and animals are still discovered every year on dry land, it becomes obvious that the world's oceans have much more to offer scientifically. Others look at them from a more commercial perspective, hoping to cash in on the natural mineral resources that exist there.
Robots have proven themselves to be valuable tools in both types of endeavors. Remote operated vehicles (ROVs) have been used for deep-sea rescue operations and to recover things from the sea floor, since the 1960s, when their development was funded by the United States Navy.
Almost immediately, the oil and gas industry saw their potential and began building remote operated vehicles for their own use in the development of offshore oil fields. They became especially valuable in the 1980s, when many of the deposits discovered were at depths that were impossible for divers to reach.
ROVs use a tether, or umbilical cable, to convey commands from a shipboard operator to the underwater vehicle. This tether will also convey video signals and sensor data. In high power applications, hydraulic lines may also be added. Remote operated vehicles come in a multitude of sizes and designs, based on the specific tasks for which they are designed.
A typical one is equipped with thrusters that allow it to maneuver in any direction, pivoting around all 3 axes of rotation. It has cameras, lights, devices for collecting water samples, and manipulators or cutters. Its sensor suite include sonars, magnetometers, and instruments for measuring the light penetration, temperature and clarity of the water.
ROVs range in size from scientific models weighing only a few pounds to giant industrial machines weighing up to 12,000 pounds.
The tasks of the ROVs used by the oil and gas industry range from the simple inspection of subsea structures, such as pipelines and platforms, to actual construction tasks, such as connecting pipelines and placing underwater manifolds.
The military uses ROVs for mine clearing and inspection. They are also used in salvage operations for sunken ships and planes. They have even been used to locate many historic shipwrecks, including the Bismark, RMS Titanic, and USS Yorktown.
In addition, they are used extensively in a variety of scientific fields. Among other things, they have helped in the discovery of a number of deep-sea plants and animals, and the subsequent study of these in their natural habitats. Remote operated vehicles have been in use for decades, with good success.
The ocean's tremendous depth, and the resulting pressure, makes any exploration a challenge, even with a ROV. Yet, this inaccessibility enhances its mystery. Whether you're a scientist or an industrialist, it fires the imagination to contemplate what may be discovered with the assistance of these underwater robots.
By Earl Hunsinger