Underwater Eyes: Practical Uses for ROVs and AUVs

Underwater Eyes: Practical Uses for ROVs and AUVs


Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are two types of robots used for marine research. Scientists use these high-tech machines to explore the dark, deep, and cold recesses of the sea floor. ROVs and AUVs can take surveys, carry instruments, and allow scientists to monitor the mission from the safety of a ship. ROVs and AUVs also have many practical applications. While the two kinds of robots carry out many similar functions, there are several key differences between the machines regarding capability and power. Here’s everything you need to know about ROVs and AUVs.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs):

Blackghost Underwater Eyes: Practical Uses for ROVs and AUVs

Are not physically connected to a ship.

Can be used for underwater search missions, such as detecting shipwrecks, rocks, and other obstructions that pose navigation risks for commercial and recreational vehicles

Work without a human operator. Missions are pre-programmed into the AUV, and the data downloaded and processed when the mission is complete.

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)

Global_Explorer_ROV Underwater Eyes: Practical Uses for ROVs and AUVs

Are physically connected to a ship.

Use a series of cables to control signals from a human operator and the ROV.

May feature a video camera, sonar systems, lights, and a mechanical arm. The mechanical arm can be used to manipulate lifting hooks, cutting lines, and retrieving small objects.

AUVs: Practical Applications 

AUVs are ideal for missions that can be programmed ahead of time and that can be carried out without human intervention. These vehicles work completely autonomously using a network of sensors to store accurately, process, and transmit data. No cables or communication tethers are needed to control the unit. The elimination of tethers allows for a more efficient, cost-effective mission. Because the AUV is not attached to the ship, it can travel farther and faster than an ROV. One of the most widely-used AUV is the Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE), which was designed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Before each mission, the robot is programmed to carry out specific tasks. The AUV is then lowered into the water to start its mission. The state-of-the-art computer aboard the AUV eliminates the need for a man operator thus reducing the number of errors in critical missions. The AUV uses onboard image processing technologies to create detailed maps of the sea floor and measures properties such as water temperature and salinity. After the mission, the AUV returns to the surface to be retrieved by the ship. Because they are unmanned, AUVs are a more commonly used and cost-effective option for underwater exploration. Operation costs are lower since these vehicles don’t have any bulky or heavy onboard equipment.

ROVs: Practical Applications

An underwater drone – ROV, as it’s more commonly called – can be used for many hydrographic applications, including object identification and ship inspections. While an ROV won’t replace a hydrographic diver, such a machine serves as an excellent substitute in places where diver safety is of concern.

ROVs are powerful pieces of machinery that can pose hazard risks to divers working on the vehicles. ROVs emit light and sounds that can interfere with divers’ senses. Other dangers include physical threats like electrocution or crushing. The unit should be verified as being up-to-date before the dive starts. The International Marine Contractors Association provides regulations and guidelines for safety when using ROVs.

As their name suggests, ROVs need to be operated by a trained and highly-skilled human operator. Failure of remote communication technologies is common, so ROVs are physically tethered to a remote operation unit to allow for remote control. ROVs are used in a variety of applications, the most famous of which have been featured in Popular Hollywood films such as The Abyss.

Both of these underwater robotic technologies have a broad range of some academic, commercial, scientific, and defiance applications. AUVs are ideal for unsupervised dives and were particularly useful for surveying seafloor features that are inaccessible by or hazardous to divers. ROVs, on the other hand, can carry out tasks in unsafe conditions that were previously only able to be done by hydrographic divers. As scientists continue to conduct research in this field, and new technologies are applied to the operations of ROVs and AUVs, these underwater robots will become more cost-effective for the end user.

Matt Stokes grew up reading Clive Cussler novels and always hoped to be the next Dirk Pitt. But alas, it didn’t happen, and he has to be content with fishing trips and diving holidays outside of the corporate world.

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