HPR ROV Blog: Robotics and ROV

Since its inception in the early 1950’s Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV’s) have become hugely important in many industries such as offshore renewables, oil and gas, defence and underwater exploration. This started in 1953 with the first un-manned vehicle, produced by Dimitri Rebikoff.  It was used for the location and documentation of sites which would have been far too harsh an environment for divers to reach. Since then innovation has helped to make the world of ROV’s far safer and much more efficient.

ROV Classification
Since their development in the early 1950’s there has been a range of technological developments in these vehicles, which has led to the following categorisation:

  • Small Electric Vehicles (SEV): These tend to be smaller vehicles with a single integrated camera, with the intention of observing and inspecting up to 300 metres underwater.
  • High Capability Electric ROV’s: Similar to SEV’s these are intended for subsea exploration but can go far deeper underwater (in excess of 6,000 metres).
  • Work Class: These vehicles are heavier machines that often carry out more complex tasks. Most notably, these are used for construction and drilling work due to their hydraulics and the multi-functional manipulating and grabbing arms.
  • Heavy Work Class: These are the most powerful classification of ROV, with horsepower of up to 250 and multiple arms to allow for increased functionality.
  • Autonomous Under Water Vehicles (AUV): Although not technically an ROV since they require no human control, these cutting-edge machines are still noteworthy due their ability to automate monotonous tasks. Many of these are used for surveying missions which can last for months at a time, battery life being a major limiting factor.  

First Stages of Innovation
During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the American navy became interested in the subsea world and diverted additional resources to investigating the advantage of ROV’s. This began with the development of the Cable-controlled Undersea Recovery Vehicle (CURV) in the early 1960’s. The first of these was the XN-3 and was used for inspecting the seafloor with the aim of retrieving torpedoes which had been used in tests and training. One of the more notable achievements of these original systems was the retrieval of one of the Mk28 hydrogen bombs that was dropped during the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash.  This alone took almost 90 days from finding the hydrogen bomb underwater to retrieving it and bringing it to the surface. The military still use many of these systems for a range of practices such as mine hunting and mine breaking.

Oil and Gas Use
Usage in the military world aside, remotely operated vehicles have become synonymous with the oil and gas sector. The need for these vehicles has since become integral to the industry with many of the offshore oil fields now too deep for human divers to access. As the years have progressed, ROV’s have become more and more advanced with each new model of ROV that is brought out. For example, many companies have developed technology which allow for the vehicles to manoeuvring around subsea installations and check for faults in pipelines and subsea structures or perform tasks like turning valves on and off. As will be explored later on, the future of ROV and its technology is rapidly changing, and innovation is still constantly occurring, allowing for further developments in the subsea sector.  

Scientific Use
As ROV’s allow exploration in areas of the ocean where a diver cannot go, they have tremendous value to the scientific community. ROV’s have been used for the inspection of the ocean floor and submerged archaeological sites. Their main purpose is for capturing and transmitting data from the vehicle to the surface. This will allow for scientists to explore underwater areas that previously they were unable to and allow for more of the subsea world to become known mid ocean ridges and black smokers spring to mind.

One of the most famous examples of ROV aiding the scientific world is the use of the machine, Argo in the discovery of shipwrecks.  Dr Robert Ballard used an underwater video camera to document the exploration of both the Titanic and Bismarck shipwrecks. An autonomous vehicle located U Boat 166 in the Gulf of Mexico in 2003 during.  More recently the Mardis Gras shipwreck was discovered by using this technology to explore some 4,000 feet underwater.  This wreck was untouched for over 200 years and its 2007 discovery was a breakthrough for historians and proved an innovative use for ROV’s. This was the deepest underwater archaeological project that was ever attempted in the Gulf of Mexico.  

Moving Forward
As has been noted, the world of ROV technology is constantly changing so it comes as no surprise that many of the recent developments are pioneering in the field. The new standard of vehicles allows for a range of tasks to be undertaken and seemingly there is no project that can be considered too advanced.   was previously mentioned AUV’s are ground-breaking in terms of the subsea world, allowing for far bigger and longer-term tasks to be carried out, due to the lack of human control needed. For example, underwater vehicles have been developed which allows for large-scale mapping of the subsea world.  A team in Norway have recently developed an autonomous robot which has mapped over 120,000km of the seabed!  The advancement in this technology means that the need for human control is negated, allowing for better allocation of human resources to projects that require a skilled ROV operator.

To conclude, this article has shown that the world of ROV has had a long and interesting story to the present day.  With the world of subsea technology constantly improving there is seemingly no limit to the potential innovation for this technology.

Craigmill, Pitcaple, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom, AB51 5HP
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