In 2016, the Expedition and Education Foundation, an anonymous charitable organization established to support marine research, funded the University of Southampton’s Black Sea Maritime Archeological (MAP) Project, the largest project “of its type ever undertaken.” This project was designed to survey the Bulgarian waters of the Black Sea, where thousands of years ago, large areas of land were submerged due to rising sea levels as the last ice age was ending.
The Black Sea was much smaller 12,000 years ago, and the project was designed to study what significant historical treasures were inundated by water, as glaciers melted and sea levels rose, and how these rising waters affected the human populations along the shorelines of the Black Sea.
John Adams, of the University of Southampton, led the team of archeologists and researchers in this study. The main instruments used to map the Black Sea floor were two specially designed ROVs or remote operated (underwater) vehicles. These ROVs are basically tethered underwater devices with instrument arrays, and are unoccupied and highly maneuverable. They are operated remotely from the mother ship, in this case, the Stril Explorer. On this expedition, MAP archaeologists lowered the two ROV’s to hunt for ancient shipwrecks and lost history.
When interviewed, Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton said he was watching the monitors one night in September when the ROV lit up a large wreck in a high state of preservation. “I was speechless,” he said. “When I saw the ropes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still can’t.” He was describing a beautifully carved, perfectly intact rudder with a coil of ropes hanging off one of the ships timbers. At the depths of this discovery, the oxygen levels are so low as to prevent any microorganisms from feeding on the wood timbers.
The remarkable color images of these wrecks are a result of the union of the ROV’s 2D images and cutting edge software, which uses photogrammetry, turning thousands of 2D images into 3D renderings. These are translated into the phenomenal final renderings of these wrecks, which look like actual photographs. The tethered ROV cameras shoot video and still photos using distance information from advanced sonars, with measurements often less than a millimeter. The software layers these images to produce incredibly realistic 3D digital models of entire shipwrecks that would normally only be barely seen from the top in the visible light spectrum.
The ships have been determined to be from the 9th century through the 19th century, spanning a thousand years of sea trade and travel. Goods traded on the Black Sea included grains, furs, horses, oils, cloth, wine and people. For Europeans, the Black Sea provided access to a branch of the Silk Road and the importation of silk, satin, musk, perfumes, spices and jewels. It is possible that Marco Polo was traveling this route when some of these ships sank around the 13th century.
Two other important elements of the MAP project are Education and Documentary. Eight students of school age were selected to join the science team on board in order to experience and even participate in many of the procedures. The documenting of this entire project is placed in the capable hands of Black Sea Films. Just as the science involved in this MAP project is cutting-edge, so is its filming, for the Black Sea Films team includes those who created the award-winning BBC series Blue Planet and Planet Earth.
The MAP findings of these ancient shipwrecks from the Byzantine and Ottoman Eras is the most significant underwater archeological discovery of this century and demonstrates how effective partnerships between academia and industry can be, especially when funded by enlightened bodies such as EEF.
It’s Olympic season again and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio are in full swing. More than 11 thousand athletes from over 200 countries around the world are pouring into the Brazilian metropolis for the thirty-first modern Olympiad, which runs from August 5 through 21, 2016. The International Olympic Committee expects half a million foreign tourists to visit Rio during the Games, along with a huge number of local Brazilians. Unfortunately, the lead-up to the Rio Games has been marked by controversies surrounding Brazil’s ability to successfully host this major international event. One of the most pressing issues has been the issue of the water quality in and around Rio.
Rio de Janeiro is an enormous metropolis, with more than 12 million inhabitants, and Guanabara Bay has served as the city’s cesspool and sewage dump for many years. Before the games, a large majority of the sewage generated in Rio was delivered untreated into the bay, along with considerable quantities of ordinary junk and garbage, and the bacterial and viral contamination level in the water were astronomically high. Local officials promised that they would take steps to increase the level of treatment so that 80% of the sewage entering the bay would go through a treatment plant, but it is thought that, at best, only 65% of the sewage is treated at the current writing.
Brazil made a number of promises about cleaning up the city when it won its bid to host the Games, but numerous reports indicate that the cleanup efforts fell well short of promises. Although reports from Olympic athletes indicate that the amount of visible debris and waste have been significantly reduced, it is thought that these have been mainly cosmetic measures. Data from water quality assessments backs up this pessimistic account; an Associated Press investigation done before the Games began showed viral levels 1.7 million times higher than what would be considered problematic in the United States.
The water in Guanabara Bay is contaminated, but how about the water along Rio’s famous beaches, some of which front the Atlantic Ocean? Unfortunately, the beaches may be even worse off than the deep water of the Bay. The beaches of Rio de Janeiro are connected to a criss-cross maze of canals and stormwater drains, which are in turn deeply contaminated with human waste. Most of the residents of the city’s favelas (slums) have no indoor plumbing and the minor waterways of the city are essentially communal sewers. As a result, the beaches always have high levels of coliform bacteria, a problem which worsens exponentially whenever one of Brazil’s torrential rains floods the drains and canals.
Although the water in Rio is dirty, experts do caution against apocalyptic rhetoric concerning the actual level of danger. The World Health Organization notes that the most likely outcome from ingestion of contaminated water is short-term gastroenteritis; not something anyone wants, but not a major life-threatening condition for people in good health otherwise. Olympic athletes are taking precautionary measures for their time in Rio, stocking up on antibacterial wipes and keeping water bottles inside of plastic bags to avoid splash contamination, for example. Some athletes expecting to swim in the most contaminated areas have received Hepatitis A vaccines as a prophylactic step. The athletes and tourists, however, will be going home in a few weeks. Those at most risk from Rio’s dark waters are the people who have been there all along, and it is they who are most in need of a sustained and meaningful effort to address the water pollution in Rio de Janeiro.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept first discussed by entrepreneur Kevin Ashton in 1999 when he was developing radio frequency ID (RFID) tags as a method for tracking inventory. The IoT concept is based on the ever-increasing number of objects in the physical world which are equipped with computing power, sensors, actuators, and – most importantly - network connectivity, and the fact that these objects, while running their own proprietary operating systems and carrying out their own specific design functions, are also interoperable within the global Internet ecosystem. For example, a smartphone carried by a human being, a Coca-Cola vending machine with a wireless connection back to the vending distributor’s intranet, and an Aquabotix research ROV feeding data back to a university Web server are all wildly different objects, but all of them are part of the Internet of Things. Researchers estimate that by 2020, there will be almost 50 billion distinct objects in the IoT infrastructure.
The IoT is one of those concepts that are incredibly interesting, and which have the potential to also become incredibly important. Right now, that Coca-Cola vending machine and the Aquabotix ROV and the smartphone don’t have a lot to say to one another. Some pundits are fond of imagining scenarios wherein the researcher operating the ROV parks the vehicle and walks home, and some yet-to-be-developed algorithm correlates the powered-off status on the ROV, her geographic location from the smartphone, historical data about ROV researcher thirstiness in the post-work environment, and the proximity of the Coke machine to cause a message to popup on her phone suggesting that she might want to stop by the vending machine and grab a Coke.
That’s a neat idea in theory (although if my smartphone starts giving me unsolicited advice to buy soda, I’m going to turn it off and go live in the woods) but in real life the practical applications of the IoT are likely to be a lot bigger than boosting retail point-of-sale numbers. If the history of technology is any guide (hint: it is), a lot of those applications are not going to be known in advance. We’re going to find them as we go along, as new data produces new insights. Those insights will make new applications for the data possible. In the underwater world, it is very likely that the relationship between ROVs and the IoT are an undiscovered country – we don’t yet know what we don’t know. We’re going to have to find out.
The main driver of that discovery process, for some time to come, is likely to be the collection of all sorts of data. One of the key selling points of ROVs for underwater work is that they make the collection of information about the underwater world possible, sometimes for the first time, and also remarkably inexpensive. This combination of newly-possible data acquisition, and the newfound cheapness of that same acquisition, is going to be a driver of all sorts of data collection which was not even imagined ten or twenty years ago. For example, sonar mapping of a harbor is something that used to cost [hundreds of thousands of dollars – my out-of-my-butt estimate] and require [millions of dollars – similarly a guess] worth of equipment to do it, and so it was something done at an interval of years or decades (if ever) and only at sites of critical importance. Today that sonar mapping can be done for thousands of dollars, with ROVs that fit easily within the budget of a small commercial marina – and so vastly more harbor mapping is being done. The same new horizons are opening up in environmental data, data on fisheries, temperature and sediment data around coastal or riparian industrial sites, and a hundred other types of information.
As that data comes in, the people who earn their living in these industries and areas are likely to find amazing new ways to use the information – and those applications will in turn feed more data into the system in a virtuous cycle. This discovery process is likely to be an extremely exciting time for people in underwater industries – and ROVs are likely to be one of the foremost tools used in the discovery process.
We are often asked about the difference between Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). While both of these are unmanned underwater vehicles, they have significant differences in their design and use. The most fundamental difference is that AUVs operate autonomously – although they were programmed by a human being, they carry out their missions without being under direct human control, and they usually do not have a tether connecting them to a mother vehicle. ROVs, by contrast, are tethered to their human operator, who pilots or “flies” the ROV using a computer console located either on the shore or on a boat or ship.
Both design strategies have strengths and weaknesses. AUVs are untethered, and thus have a greater operational radius. Once programmed, they can operate independently, carrying out missions for hours or (for larger vehicles) days. On the other hand, one programming glitch can result in a million-dollar vehicle disappearing into the inky depths, never to be seen again. The ocean is a big place, and if an AUV has a critical failure at any distance from its operational base, then it’s bye-bye AUV. For that reason, many AUV operators in practice keep the AUVs within telemetry range of a crewed vessel or base so that a failed unit can still be recovered by using its last telemetry to locate it.
ROVs by contrast need a guiding hand at all times, which means that every hour of vehicle operation is also an hour of crew time to pay for. On the plus side, ROVs tend to be more maneuverable than AUVs, since human pilots still outperform robots in field conditions.
ROVs and AUVs have a very extensive list of suitable missions. Both have military, commercial, industrial educational, and even recreational uses, and the overlap between the two types of vehicles for specific mission types is very broad. The choice between using an ROV or an AUV for a specific project often comes down to the nitty-gritty details of the mission, or the resources and philosophy of the deploying organization or individual. Both types of vehicles are outstanding at all types of underwater work, and both types of vehicle have areas where they shine a little brighter than the other. ROVs probably have the edge in terms of usability and initial investment; they are simply less expensive, and it is easier to learn how to pilot an ROV than it is to learn how to program an AUV.
Thank you to Unmanned Systems and author Marc Selinger for their coverage of Aquabotix in the February edition of the magazine.
To learn more about Unmanned Systems, please visit http://www.auvsi.org/publications/unmannedsystemsmagazine.
Thank you to Aquaculture North America for the coverage of the HydroView pro 7M/AQ in the Jan/Feb 2016 edition. The HydroView Pro 7M/AQ is configured specifically to address the needs of aquaculture applications and includes options most requested by fish farm operators.
To learn more about Aquaculture North America, visit their website at www.aquaculturenorthamerica.com.
2015 was a big year for Aquabotix. Here are some of the highlights of our year:
Launched Two New Products:
Launched a New Website
Aquabotix attended and exhibited at a variety of trade shows including:
Moved to a New Corporate Headquarters
Participated in a Variety of Volunteer Opportunities including: