Under the sea: Submarine drones for ocean exploration

By October 8, 2019Uncategorized

Have you ever wondered how big is the ocean and how robots can help us explore it? According to the Smithsonian Institute, this massive body of water holds over 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water and covers 71% of the Earth’s surface. Although it’s been investigated since ancient times, the ocean is still a mystery to many researchers. Humans have been making efforts to gain knowledge about it all throughout history and robots could help us uncover its mysteries.

Ocean exploration started around 5000 B.C. with the firsts attempts in ocean diving, sailing vessels, diving bells, and coastal maps. As humanity gained knowledge and technology advanced, we explored further and farther from shores, discovering lands and connecting with cultures around the world.

After the invention of the first diving suit in the 18th century, deep-diving started to seem possible and expeditions to explore the Ocean continued underwater with the invention of the submarine. The 1900s became a turning point and humanity started to reach deep sea levels. The deep-sea is what scientists define as the part of the ocean below the thermocline, the layer where effects of sunlight cease, and above the seafloor. But there are only so many places we as a species can reach. And that’s where our robotic friends get into the game.

According to NOAA Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are unoccupied, highly maneuverable underwater robots that can be used to explore ocean depths while being operated by someone at the water surface. 

Most ROVs are equipped with at least a still camera, video camera, and lights, meaning that they can transmit images and video back to the ship. Additional equipment, such as a manipulator or cutting arm, water samplers, and instruments that measure parameters like water clarity and temperature, may also be added to vehicles to allow for sample collection. They were first developed for industrial uses but today are used for a wide range of applications, including scientific research. 

There are also Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), which are computer-controlled systems operating undersea. AUVs are unmanned underwater robots akin to the Curiosity rover NASA uses on Mars. 

As their name suggests, AUVs operate independently of humans. AUVs have no physical connection to their operator, who may be onshore or aboard a ship. Rather, AUVs are self-guiding and self-powered vehicles. AUVs may glide from the sea surface to ocean depths and back. Others can stop, hover, and move as blimps or helicopters do through the air.

Combining the advantages of ROVs and AUVs there are also Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicles (HROVs), the vehicles operate as a free-swimming autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), flying through the ocean like an aircraft to survey and map large areas with onboard sonar, sensors, and cameras. 

It can also be converted aboard ship into a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), connected to a surface ship via a lightweight, micro-thin fiber-optic tether that permits scientists and operators on the surface to control the vehicle and its manipulator arm to carry out targeted surveys and collections, and help carry out detailed experiments in the deep ocean.

These kinds of robots can reach places and depths that are not possible for humans, using underwater robots could decrease costs for many activities that are currently performed by Human Occupied Vehicles, improve safety in dangerous tasks and increase performance for underwater related activities.

“Underwater robots could decrease costs for many activities that are currently performed by Human Occupied Vehicles, improve safety in dangerous tasks and increase performance for underwater related activities”

If you want to know more about the current state of ocean exploration we recommend you to read the interview with Andy Bowen director of the National Deep Submergence Facility at The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Imagining new vehicles for exploration

  • Discover what lies beneath the surface

Among many applications, Underwater Robots have the potential to explore the oceans in numerous ways, for that purpose projects like Nido Robotics Sibiu Nano, the perfect tool to perform underwater inspections, efficiently and very profitably, as well as living a completely complete underwater experience. With this robot you can get live images through your 1080p camera, specifically optimized for the marine environment.

Or Nido Robotics Sibiu PRO, a bigger underwater drone that allows performing research, inspection, and maintenance of submerged facilities in an efficient and safe way. It comes with a 1080p camera, specifically optimized for the underwater environment, together with its 4 lights of 1500 lumens allowing to obtain a clear image in low light environments.

It incorporates eight thrusters, which gives it smoothness and stability in navigation. In addition, the latest generation engineering with which it has been built and its technological innovation allows it to reach depths of up to 300m.

A great example of a use for these underwater robots could is the vital role they could play in the research of ocean species and their behavior patterns by collecting images or samples. 

  • Solving challenges one AUV at the time 

Subsea Mechatronics is an R&D start-up SME focused on mechatronics developments and consultancy services. 

Their toolbot offers a solution for the last mile dredging operations where spots are hard to reach, where underneath infrastructures must be maintained or when conventional methods are oversized to actuate with precision.

RobotUnion is supporting important underwater solutions that bring an innovative way to the underwater and marine industry. The range of activities in underwater exploration could be greatly improved by using ROVs, AUVs, and HROVs, we are certain that as technology continues improving will be seeing a lot more of these robots diving into the depths of our big blue ocean.

Written by Natalia Cardona Mercado for RobotUnion

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