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ROVs, Pilots And Tooling Working Together

June 2, 2010

Remotely Operated Vehicles and their Human Operators Working Around the Clock

More bad news from the Gulf of Mexico last night. BP’s latest attempt to end the huge Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster failed.  A diamond-tipped saw blade jammed as an ROV was trying to provide a clean cut in yet another attempt to cap the spewing well. See graphic presentation…

The robot submarines equipped with grippers, saws and other end-of-arm tooling clumsily wrestle with valves, wrenches and other well apparatus nearly a mile below where the ROV pilots and operations teams work around the clock to stop the spill. There are lots of stories about the undersea drama taking place. For a different view, in this post I want to show a little about how the pilots and ROV tooling work.

Intelligent Machines in Undersea Applications

The Saab Seaeye has one large claw to attract lady ROVs

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I presented a series of tutorials at  ROV Conferences, sponsored by Marine Technical Society, in San Diego, CA. These were based on a series I developed for CalTech/JPL,  Application of Intelligent Machines in Space.

Doing research for the presentations I quickly realized how difficult it was for machines to work in the cold dark turbulence of subsea operations. It is in ways more difficult and challenging than the weightless and relatively stable environment of space work. The vast distances involved in space exploration require the JPL and other space robotics teams to develop untethered teleoperated and autonomous vehicles and robotic systems.

NASAtelevision — January 09, 2009 — The Mars Exploration Rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity” were sent to Mars for what was planned to be a 90 day mission. 5 years later they are still roving the surface of Mars, making new discoveries almost every day. This video celebrates the extraordinary success of these “Intrepid Explorers”.


Our Southern California chapter of Robotics International were at JPL  in Pasadena during the Voyager 2 fly by of Saturn and we later cheered for the plucky Mars Rovers as they far exceeded mission objectives. These intelligent machines often had to operate autonomously, due to the lag time in communicating over such great distances.

One of the companies I looked at doing research was Schilling Robotics, who at the time focused on building manipulators for ROVs and other subsea uses. They now make a full line of ROVs and other high tech gear. Here’s a fun video about their manipulators.

“Since 1985, Schilling Robotics has been engineering, manufacturing, and delivering the highest quality subsea equipment in the subsea market. Its first small, hydraulically powered underwater remote manipulator went to market in 1986, and by 1988 Schilling had become a leading supplier of high-performance subsea remote manipulator systems used in offshore oil, telecommunications, scientific, and military operations.” See about Schilling…

Pilot training

UAV and ROV pilots get to stay warm and dry while their robot vehicles have to work in the real world under the very harshest conditions. And while there is no doubt job stress and heavy responsibilities that pilots work with, they have a relatively cushy job compared the the divers and soldiers who operate on site.

Killer UAVs (The Reaper with a 66-foot wingspan and a range of over 3,600 miles. It can carry four missiles and two laser-guided bombs on missions as high as 50,000 feet.) are operated  by young pilots who face consequences when the UAVs accidentally take out innocents.

Who gets to be a ROV pilot here’s an interesting interview with one who works with the Monterey Bay Aquatic Research Institute. He talks about his background and his job.

Smart, talented people teaming with intelligent machines and dexterous manipulators are working hard to stop the oil leak and win the war. Like all difficult tasks, mistakes are made and there’s no guarantee of success. Only hard work, dedicated professionals and advanced technology extending the reach of man.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2010 1:53 pm

    Hi Jerry. Your 3 recent ROV posts were really well done. I was wondering if you know about the MATE Center’s ROV student competitions? If you don’t mind, could you send me an email because I’d like to send you some information about it. I hesitate to hijack your blog by posting it but I thought you’d be interested. Thanks!

    • June 11, 2010 8:26 am

      Hi Caroline,

      Feel free to post info about MATE here for others to see.

      I am unaware of the program but would be happy to learn about it.

      Glad you like the posts.

  2. November 26, 2013 9:18 pm

    Nice post. A remotely operated underwater vehicle, commonly referred to as an ROV, is a tethered underwater vehicle. They are common in deep water industries such as offshore hydrocarbon extraction. Thanks for sharing….

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