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ROVs At Work In The Gulf and The Challenger Deep

May 7, 2010

ROVs Flying the Seas

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are cousins to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that we’ve been discussing here at Innovational Musings. Both vehicles are considered to fly through their environments and when used as teleoperated devices they are “piloted” by people. UAVs and ROVs are part of the family of mobile robots that can be tethered by cables that supply power and communications or run autonomously under their own power and control. Depending on the mission, operations can be cooperatively controlled using both piloted and autonomous modes.

ROVs are most often used on land, and like their cousins usually serve as a platform for deploying sensors, manipulators (arms and grippers) and sometimes weapons. Mobile robots like NASA’s Voyager and the Mars Rover are explorers, discovering new worlds, places too far or dangerous for man. Mobile robots safely extend our reach to learn, work or secure.

For this Friday’s post we present two instances of undersea ROVs at their extremes. The first is a report on the role of ROVs as part of the first responders team in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The second story covers the deep sea champion ROV explorer sub Nereus.

In either case, if these were manned missions, the people would be honored as hereos. But, ROVs are not heroic, merely our robots pals helping to build a better world.

ROV attempting to activate Blowout Preventer

ROBERT, La. - A robotic arm of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) at work. Thursday, April 22, 2010. Photo from USCG site

The image above, from the US Coast Guard’s flickr stream, shows an ROV attempting to activate the Deepwater Horizon Blowout Preventer (BOP). The attempt failed and the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues, threatening to become one of the biggest environmental disasters of all time. Efforts to stop the spill now include at least 10 underwater robots (in addition to 200 manned sea vessels). US Coast Guard ROVs located two of the major leaks. There have been unsuccessful attempts by six different ROVs to close the BOP. Read more at…

Robots can work solo or as part of a coordinated team. Today ROVs are guiding the giant containment vessel into postion to capture the spewing oil a mile beneath the surface. The below animation shows what’s planned.

Containment measures in the Gulf of Mexico

“Several different measures are being taken to clean up the oil spill, including the gathering of oil, spreading dispersants, using remotely operated vehicles, deploying booms for easier skimming oil and controlled burning, drilling a relief well and fitting 100-ton containment chamber over the leak.”

“A remotely operated vehicle uses a saw to cut a ruptured pipe in preparations to stop a leak, May 3, 2010. The ROV was critical in completing the subsea operations and stopping one of the three leaks.” See: Video provided by BP.

Continue to meet Nereus, deep sea explorer ROV…

Meet Nereus, Deep Sea Explorer

After four years of design and construction, Nereus took its first plunge in deeper waters during a test cruise in December 2007 off the Waianae coast of Oahu, Hawaii. The one-of-a-kind vehicle can operate either as an autonomous, free-swimming robot for wide-area surveys, or as a tethered vehicle for close-up investigation and sampling of seafloor rocks and organisms. (Photo by Robert Elder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Nereus reaches the deepest-known part of the ocean.

The dive to 10,902m (6.8 miles) took place on May 31, 2009 at the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, located in the western Pacific Ocean. This makes Nereus the deepest-diving vehicle currently in service and the first vehicle to explore the Marianas Trench since 1998. The unmanned vehicle is remotely operated by pilots aboard a surface ship via a lightweight tether. Take an Interactive Tour of Nereus

Fit to be Tied – or Untied

Nereus is cool and swings both ways

Weight on land: 2,800kg Payload capacity: 25kg Maximum speed: 3 knots Batteries: rechargeable lithium ion

Exploring the Deepest Frontiers

“With a robot like Nereus, we can now explore virtually anywhere in the ocean,” said Andy Bowen, project manager and principal developer of the sub at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

The Challenger Deep is the deepest-known part of the ocean, and part of the Marianas Trench near the island of Guam in the west Pacific.”The trenches are virtually unexplored, and I am absolutely certain Nereus will enable new discoveries. I believe it marks the start of a new era in ocean exploration.”

It is the deepest abyss on Earth at 11,000m-deep, more than 2km (1.2 miles) deeper than Mount Everest is high. At that depth, pressures reach 1,100 times those at the surface. See full BBC News article…

More on our robot pals next week…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz T permalink
    May 8, 2010 9:33 am

    I disagree with calling ROVs explorers. ROVs and AUVs are simply drones which carry tools and perform tasks as directed by their human operators or programmers. The ROV operators, diving supervisors and other offshore personnel are the heroes currently working to stem the flow in the GoM. Actual exploration does involve risk; it always has. We have only once explored the deepest part of the sea and that was in 1960 with the Trieste piloted by Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard. Other than that, it has been two visits with drones. Engineering accomplishment yes; exploration, no. Scientists use ROVs and AUVs only because they have little choice. Given a choice, nearly all would prefer to explore in a human occupied submersible. There is no substitute for direct human observation. The US has one 40+ year old HOV, Alvin. It only goes to 4500m. Japan, Russia, France and now China all have deeper HOV capabilities. In a video game culture it is easy to lean towards ROVs. If we want to further exploration it is time to bring technology forward and invest in HOVs.

    • May 8, 2010 11:03 am

      Thanks for you thoughtful comment Liz.

      I understand your position based on your definition of ROVs, but it depends on the inherent level of intelligence of the robot vs. a simple tool/instrument or drone that you mention. And while a ROV pilot’s job may be stressful and difficult I think it’s a stretch to call it heroic.

      NASA’s Voyager and Mars Rovers have performed their explorations beyond the call of duty. They may not have achieved WALL-E like heroism, but they have transcended mere engineering excellence. Oh, the places they’ve been and the tales they could tell!

      There is a room for both man and machine in exploration and other applications. And while currently machines are a poor substitute for having human intelligence and dexterity on the job, we are beyond the “…only because they have little choice.” level.

      Intelligent machines can provide cost, safety and performance advantages over HOVs. As machines get smarter and better networked they will be taking on more work, warfare and exploration, freeing people to do less risky, higher level missions, like understanding what’s been discovered or deciding what to destroy.

      Automation has always challenged man thusly and it will continue to do so. Usually if a machine can do the job, it gets the job and people need to find something else to do or share the workload. Ask John Henry. It’s been true on the factory floor and will continue to be true in hostile environments like space, seas and battlefields.

      I agree it’s less romantic, but science and human safety are more important than romance. It is the way of the worlds. Ask Chuck Yeager.

      Me, I am a romantic, and people struggling, overcoming impossible obstacles – is the stuff of great stories – no question. But work and war demand optimal execution and the best solution should get the job.

  2. May 21, 2010 4:02 pm

    If the ROV could place 2 pieaces of steel with tightening clamp on the well head pipe just off the ocean floor. this would server as a platform for the next step.
    2.once the steel tighen in place take a wire rope with 1 wrap around the pipe aircraft cable 3/8 inch with 2 rov’s moving back in forth
    it would be like a sawing mostion on the pipe. this would cut the pipe off level just above the well blow back vavle. once the 500 foot piece of pipe fall over or off to the side. there would be a changces that a
    pipe fitting climp could be used.
    note that the 500 feet of pipe and the rest of the pipe would be falling down or over. So from top side with winch line the is big eough
    to hold the weight of the pipe should be connected to pipe at the bent area. but this area might be weakened few few wire rope grips could be in stalled to house the pipe and hold the pipe with the winch line connected to it. if the top of the pipe was to be cared off and layed out in way on the sea floor the next sets would be
    3. with level cut pipe a slevel could be 2 peices with bolted to the pipe ( Clamp) prusurre clamp then a lager but short piece of pipe could be brought down with a vavle on it. If the valve was open at the time it was placed over top of the oil well head there wold not be any
    presurre to stop as the oil flowed though the piece of pipe. once the ROV tighten the climp down the valve would or could be shut off and the oil flow would stop. If the rov’s are not big eough to pull the cable around the pipe then use 2 small subs or the ROV that cut the trees in the settle under water frost . this was at the time the Dams was built and thay didnt have no way to hold back the water coming down the mountian. the saw blade would have to be changed over to steel cutting blade.

    the reason for the steel claimps is to hold the wire rope in place while the wire rope is sawing mostion.

    use small wire rope to start out with that your rov can managed then pull in place the bigger wire ropes as need. the ROVs could be locked together to get more turst. Or build few rovs with bigger tursters on it to get the work done the big ships have big ones that could be used. I’m not sure if lasers have been used underwater that could cut the pipe. a high prussure water cutter would be the frist type of cutter I would try to come up with thay use then to cut stone in rock courrys. It stands to reason that it would cut pipe.
    Call NASA and ask if thay could come up with a prodo type and see if it would work.

    I would like to help with this way of thinking and rigging and work
    I have good working mind for this stuff and just need a few others to
    to help with bring the tools togather for the work.
    If this can not be done buy top side in resonable time time.
    Then if you could with the right inforamtion I dive team with right
    gear will have to be used. I’ll exsplan later .

    To be there in the gulf and lookingaround and the details that could be gethered would be of help. Please email back if you have details
    on the water temps from top to bottom of the sea floor it would help
    I have all the information on the currents in the gulf.
    take the temp every 100 feet or so and report back.
    my email is skydiverc24837@gmail. Keep in mind this is computer system and if we have to go in to face to face talks and working knolage and drewing broad and feild hands on with tools and matrails it would be with great understanding that we work along each other side to get the project done.
    Thank you and let me here back from you’ll that are there
    I ‘m just few air miles from the area and might be able to get over in the gulf wit hsome help.

    Working height in the gulf is that like working tower work on the ground and in the air . it helps to understand the desing and enginnering with there minds at work sorry for the few miss spelled words
    Danny Baseheart

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