André Lopes

What are the ROVs and Subsea Robotics?

Published Sept. 30, 2021, 5:54 p.m. Tags: python , career , rov Post a comment
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Curious to understand what I am talking about when you read about ROVs and Subsea Robotics on my website and resume? I will explain it to you.

I have developed a bright carer within the Subsea Robotics field before moving to the Data Science and Software Engineering. I loved working offshore and exploring the ocean. However, being for very long away from home started to become boring over time. So I decided to make a move and start working with something else I loved, but that could provide me a better quality of live.

And here I am now, a Data Scientist. And the good thing it has always been all about data!

Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle

Remotely Operated Vehicle are what ROV stands for. I honestly do not know why people decided to omit the "underwater" part of it. It would be much more self-explanatory if they kept it. But anyways...

These are, as the name says, unoccupied subsea machines that are highly maneuverable and can be used to explore the ocean depths being operated remotely. These submarines are controlled from a cockpit usually installed on a vessel, either a Drillship, Oil Rig, or an special vessel used only for the ROV operations. With the most recent advances of telecommunications technologies, today the ROV - actually the whole vessel - can be controlled from miles away, from a control center installed onshore.

Most of the vehicles, or "subs" as we usually call them, are equipped with HD cameras, LED lights, sonars, manipulators (robotic arms), and several sensors for data collection.

The most powerful ROV, like the ones I worked with, are fed via three-phase copper conductors for the hydraulics, plus a single-phase for the electronics, and fibre optics for communication. It all goes inside a very expensive special armoured cable (umbilical) that can lift the tons of the system while keeping all the conductors and fibers safe.

The whole system is a computers network. The communication happens using TCP/IP and UDP protocols over an Ethernet network. Some old stuff still use RS-232 and RS-485, but the electronics signal also travels via ethernet. On the surface we have Hubs and Switches and some times the ROV piloting console must be connected to the vessel's network as well, to make use of the positioning system, for example.

See below a video, courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, to see how everything is on board.

History of the ROVs

The ROVs were developed in the 1960s by the US Navy as a resource for national defense and underwater equipment recovery. By the 80s, the Oil and Gas industry starter to use the robotic submarines to aid in the subsea operations.

Nowadays the ROVs are much more advanced in terms of technology and they can dive down to 4000 meters deep and have over 200 HP.

Recently, cutting-edge companies have started their Remote Operations Centers, which allow them to control multiple vessels and submarines from their site on land, reducing the risks of being offshore and saving on headcount.

There are even underwater autonomous vehicles, called AUVs.

Operations of the ROVs

ROVs allow us to explore the ocean without actually being in the ocean. They can do pretty much everything down there. From simply observation tasks to heavy interventions on subsea equipment of oilfields.

The most common use and investments are made by the Oil and Gas industries. The biggest and most productive oil fields are offshore and they need "eyes" and "hands" down on the seabed to properly install, inspect and repair their equipment. Can you imagine how expensive it is to mobilize an intervention rig to pull an equipment from 3000m deep only to repair a valve? This could be done in hours with a ROV (with its limitations, of course).

They are widely used for scientific and geographical researches as well. The can be used to map the seabed, look for marine lives, collect samples of water, debris, etc. Some people usem them for treasure hunting and also for recovery of equipments.

Sometimes they are used when planes fall on the sea or ships sank as well.

My Career with the ROVs

I started over in 2014, as a Trainee. I was approved in the first place (best grades) on a selection process which had over 1,000 applicants. I was promoted to a Junior Pilot, then to a Senior Pilot and, finally, I was working as a ROV and Subsea Operations Supervisor.

I have worked in different places in Brazil, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and in the US.

For over four years I also acted as Technical Support for Brazil, in the first place, and later for American within their office in Houston, Texas. One of my greatest achievements was developing the Maintenance Manual of the ROVs to be implemented globally by the company.

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