What Are Underwater ROVs & What Are They Used For?
Underwater ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) are submersible, robotic systems, used to observe the depths of large bodies of water by operators from shore, or by divers in the water.
What Is An Underwater ROV?
ROVs range in size; they can be as small as a basketball to as big as a large SUV. The prices also vary greatly. They start at a few thousand dollars and can go up to millions of dollars. Underwater ROVs are used in a variety of industries: Search and Rescue, Military, Recreation and Discovery, Aquaculture, Marine Biology, Oil, Gas, Offshore Energy, Shipping, Submerged Infrastructure, and more. They allow operators to capture photo and video footage to inspect and monitor ports, harbours and vessels, bring innovation to pipe inspections, locate underwater targets and explore the depths of our oceans, lakes and rivers.
Four Classes of ROVs
Work Class ROV
A work class ROV is used for ocean floor exploration and inspections at depths that divers are often unable to reach. They act as a safe alternative to divers and are often used in offshore energy projects and deep archaeological investigations.
Light Work Class ROV
A light work class ROV is ideal for moderate to deep depths; the ROV is deployed from ships in lieu of divers to explore. It can be used during inspections to make repairs. Large extensions, such as laser scanners or specialized inspection devices and sensors, can be added on.
Observation Class ROV
An Observation Class ROV is small in size, used to explore lakes, rivers and coastal waters. They are often used to test water safety prior to a diver entering the water during missions and conducting inspections, Able to be equipped with sonar and custom sensors, they are versatile vehicles.
Micro or Mini ROV
The micro or mini ROV is the smallest class, often used to inspect hard to reach areas at shallow depths, such as pipe systems and submerged infrastructure.
Origin and History
Remotely operated vehicles were first tested in the 1960's by the U.S. Navy to retrieve sunken data. In 1966, the Navy’s Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV) successfully recovered an atomic bomb that went missing off the coast of Spain.
In 1973, the crew from Pisces – a notable deep-sea submarine that sunk off the coast of Ireland - was saved by a remotely operated vehicle. Over the course of the following decade, underwater ROVs became a crucial system used in various industries.
Work class ROVs were the pioneers and are still being widely used today. Observation ROVs are the newest to the market; however, they have filled the gap, specializing in shallow water observation and inspections.
Benefits of the Modern Underwater ROV
Due to its compact design and easy to use technology, underwater ROVs can be deployed in a moment’s notice. This is highly beneficial in emergency situations where time is limited, and in areas that are too narrow or difficult to reach by divers. Deep Trekker ROVs can be deployed in as little as 30 seconds.
Underwater ROVs are robust and rugged in design, built to withstand harsh water environments, and require minimal maintenance. Typically, ROVs can last years without the need for major repairs.
Extended Dive Times
Depending on the conditions and type of operation, divers can only remain submerged underwater up to 30 minutes to an hour at a time and most jobs require a dive team consisting of 2-3 divers - commercial diver, standby diver, and supervisor - for a single mission. Depending on its battery life, an ROV can remain underwater for hours on end. The Deep Trekker DTG3 ROV for example, has a battery life of up to 8 hours.
Video Recording Capabilities
One of the most remarkable benefits of the ROV is its photo and video recording capabilities; they can provide high resolution footage. In dark and murky waters, an ROV can be deployed to record, and later be reviewed for documentation and results. Alternatively, the footage can be edited to serve for documentary programming.
Fit into Confined Areas
Depending on its size, an ROV is capable of maneuvering and inspecting small and hard to reach areas. This is critical when collecting data that would otherwise be unattainable by divers.
ROVs provide a safe alternative to explore dangerous areas for divers. Both from shore, or by divers in the water. An ROV can be deployed in underwater locations to gather remains and collect data. In situations where divers are needed, ROVs can inspect critical areas, while the diver determines the safest possible route.
Easy to Use
Mini ROVs are often equipped with a handheld controller which greatly reduces the learning curve. Learning the controls can take as little as a few minutes for familiarization, a few hours for proficient piloting, and a weekend to become an expert.
In comparison to larger submersibles, a micro ROV is much more cost-effective. A micro ROV is great for anyone interested in exploring narrow underwater areas and gathering footage or collecting data; it is also a very affordable option.
Underwater ROVs in Various Industries
Aquaculture is a key source of food, nutrition, income and livelihoods for millions of people around the globe. Using an ROV allows operators to take control of their fish farms. ROVs are used in aquaculture for a more efficient performance of net inspections, lighting, feeding, trouble shooting and stock monitoring. The use of underwater ROVs has proven to be a cost effective way for fish farmers to ensure healthy fish crop, efficient harvest and environmental protection.
- Read more: Learn how Deep Trekker makes Aquaculture inspections easy
- Read more: Saving Time and Money with Sverre Føyen and Erko Seafood.
Commercial and Salvage Diving
ROVs are a versatile tool for commercial divers to perform inspections in enclosed spaces, including tanks, pipes and intake structures or in open water applications, such as hull inspections or salvage operations. Using an ROV allows divers to examine a site prior to diving or send the ROV into dangerous conditions in lieu of divers to keep humans safe.
Routine inspections are critical to the long-term care and success of any type of infrastructure. With underwater infrastructure, routine inspections such as dam, bridge and reservoir inspections can be both difficult and dangerous. ROVs are now being used to perform infrastructure inspections of pipeline systems so that divers are not put in harm's way, and crucial infrastructure is well-maintained.
Threats to security are often hidden in underwater locations, either as discarded evidence, contraband travelling on ships, or explosives placed to cause destruction. An ROV gives a safe view of threats and evidence that is hidden beneath the waves, without jeopardizing diver's safety.
Read more: Using ROVs to Maximize Crew Safety
ROVs are used to help with environmental research and surveying our oceans for evidence. The cost and risk for divers to perform research dives can prohibit environmental organizations from moving forward. An ROV provides a cost-effective alternative to fully utilize research grants and funding.
Oil and Energy
As the population grows, the need for efficient production and delivery of energy is becoming more pressing. All forms of energy require infrastructure underwater: wind, solar, oil and gas, nuclear, and hydroelectricity. An ROV offers an alternative to sending divers underwater to perform needed emergency or routine inspection work. ROV inspections are safe, efficient and lessen the environmental impact from periodic monitoring and inspection.
Read more: Eugene Water and Electric Board
Periodic inspections of boat hulls during transit and when entering ports are a necessity to monitor: a vessel’s structural integrity, the potential transfer of an invasive species, or contraband smuggling. An ROV provides an affordable, user-friendly way to perform marine surveys, hull and ship inspections and ballast tank inspections without the need for diver intervention.
See how a Deep Trekker ROV can perform a marine survey without diver intervention
- Read more: Customer Success Story:Foss Marine and Amanda Dayton
As we discover more and more about our earth, the desire to understand what we cannot see beneath the waves is greater than ever. Many discovery expeditions now make use of specially designed ROVs; these are equipped with cameras to mitigate risks and help divers with imaging and video recording capabilities.
Read more: 5 Ways Scuba Divers are Using ROVs
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