Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and weights, but no matter the make or model of underwater vehicle, there are a set of best practices to keep in mind when transporting an ROV to and from a mission site. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on inspection class mini ROVs which don’t require flat bed trucks, cranes or research vessels for portage:
Protect Vehicle and Instruments with Purpose-Built Hard Cases
Protecting your hardware during travel begins with how well its packed. Underwater vehicle systems are sold with hard carrying cases such as Pelican cases. Single Lid Cases or ISP (Inter Stacking Pattern) Cases are the most common options, especially those which can be carried with handles, moved with wheels, and stacked together for transport. What’s inside a case is equally important – the interior protection offered by precision cut foam, Velcro cinch straps, and shock mounts will reduce overall shock and vibration on your parts and increase their travel lifespan.
Always Organize Cases for Field Work
Before you depart for a mission, pack all equipment in a way which makes it easy to find and access each component once you are on location. Field deployment, maintenance and repairs are challenging enough; Make sure you are never left searching or digging through piles of equipment to find the tool you need by anticipating how and when each piece of equipment and their associated parts will be used when you arrive on-site.
Know the Regulations on Lithium Battery Transport
If your underwater vehicles or equipment are battery powered, you should get familiar with Lithium Battery regulations, especially for air transport. Rechargeable lithium batteries are great for powering electronics, but they are also regarded as Dangerous Goods. Regulations may change over time, and change between country of origin and destination, so keeping current on rules is a must. The two organizations to check include the US Department of Transportation as well as the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In general, the size, number of cells, and total power of lithium batteries allowed for transport may vary, as well as if the battery is permanently installed or traveling as a backup power source, and whether its traveling on a passenger or cargo flight.
Pressure Changes During Air Transport
Before transporting a sealed vehicle by air, always refer to the user manual and manufacturer instructions for Air Transport. All Underwater Vehicles need to be waterproof, which means the vehicle is sealed from water, but it’s also sealed from the external atmosphere, which may cause problems. Some ROVs are sealed with one atmosphere of air pressure at sea level, which must be vented during flight; other ROVs are vacuum sealed and won’t require venting for travel but will always require a vacuum to be drawn after internal vehicle maintenance is performed. Not adhering to manufacturer instructions can cause damage and leaks in either scenario, which could end a mission before it begins.
Always Ask for Accessible Accommodations
Whenever travel takes you away from home with a truck full of equipment, always make sure you book accessible accommodations. First floor hotel rooms are a must, so is picking a room adjacent to ramps nearest to parking areas. When planning ground transport, make sure your vehicle can accommodate all equipment cases you are carrying. Additionally, travel with bungee cords, cargo nets or ratchet straps to secure all cases from shifting.
Have a Work Space Prepared for Use
Whether you deploy an ROV from a boat, the shore, or a dock, your destination often isn’t built to accommodate the launch and operation of underwater vehicles. Before arrival, understand the work surfaces you will have available, and if they are inadequate, bring portable equipment such as tables, chairs, sun shades and work benches to stage your mission successfully. When working on boats, always plan for rough seas and secure your work surfaces accordingly.
Shipping Equipment Through Freight and Package Carriers
Extra care should be taken when shipping equipment in advance of your arrival. Freight carriers are adept at getting your cargo from point A to point B, but making sure it arrives intact often comes down to how well the freight is packaged and labeled by the shipper. Individual Hard Cases should have collapsible handles, wheels, inspection locks, tamper evident zip ties, and impact indicators to increase safe delivery rates. When possible, packing multiple smaller cases that are under 50 pounds can alleviate rough handling by carriers because each case can be handled by a single person. When the amount of gear increases, palletizing cargo becomes the most efficient option, which might mean stacking cases on a single pallet, or when security is an issue, custom pallet crates can add a second layer of protection. Before your hardware is shipped through a third party, always take photos before and after transport, and accurately declare its value to protect your investment.
With these tips and a little planning, you should encounter far less friction when transporting remotely operated vehicles to and from job locations. If you have additional transport tips, share them with us on Twitter @Aquabotix!
UUV Aquabotix Ltd (ASX:UUV) (“Aquabotix" or the “Company”) today introduced Live Remote Control, which allows users to pilot Aquabotix’s underwater vehicles and cameras from any web browser-enabled device, remotely, from anywhere in the world. This class-leading technology has applications for any business, research centre, security force of defence unit with a multi-site presence in the underwater world.
Live Remote Control enables users to operate Aquabotix’s Endura ROV (remotely operated vehicle), Hybrid AUV/ROV (autonomous/remotely operated vehicle) and AquaLens Connect (networked underwater camera system) during underwater activities from any location globally, using browser-based devices such as computers, phones and iPads, over the Internet, without the operator being physically present on-site.
Below is an artist’s rendering of Live Remote Control’s applicability to the aquaculture sector. For example, the operator could be sitting in the head-office in Norway, and controlling an Endura in a fish net at an aquaculture farm off the coast of Chile, thousands of miles away.
Importantly, Live Remote Control also enables multiple operators (in multiple global locations, if needed) to operate the same unmanned underwater vehicle.
Live Remote Control is designed to expand the virtual presence of Aquabotix’s product users, allowing them to better monitor what’s happening at all times, while sharing data across multiple sites. The web-driven innovation also reduces the need for increased or expensive on-site manpower for underwater operations.
This method of operation is conceptually somewhat similar to how the world’s technologically most advanced militaries have, for years, operated battlefield aerial drones from safe locations outside of the theatre of war.
“With Live Remote Control, any browser-based modern device can now interact with our system,” said Durval Tavares, CEO of Aquabotix. “Having our customers operate unmanned systems underwater in a live, immediate fashion, from anywhere in the world, is a game-changer for the underwater robotics industry. Advances in underwater unmanned systems typically lag those in the aerial domain by several years. Aquabotix is proud that the smart computing power of its vehicles enables the company to achieve innovations like these, which are at the forefront of advances in the industry.”
“Driving an underwater vehicle through a web browser previously seemed impossible,” said Ted Curley, Chief Development Officer of Aquabotix. “Live Remote Control now changes the timeline for how underwater processes can be accomplished both on land and under the sea.”
UUV Aquabotix Ltd (ASX:UUV) (“Aquabotix" or the “Company”) today introduced Live Remote Viewing, a new product feature that enables real-time underwater viewing and connectivity between Aquabotix’s products and remote customers via the cloud.
Live Remote Viewing, designed specifically for Aquabotix’s Endura ROV (remotely operated vehicle) and AquaLens Connect (networked underwater camera system), utilizes remote diagnostics to allow off-site customers to monitor multiple inspections, operations and explorations from a single platform in real time.
“The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way our world communicates and interacts, and we believe that same concept should apply under the water,” said Durval Tavares, Aquabotix’s CEO. “We’re helping to address our customers’ pain points by transforming a previously singular, disconnected entity into one where multiple underwater technologies can work together on the one platform. Utilizing the IoT to produce the world’s only digital inspection-class ROV platform, we are confident Live Remote Viewing will be a game changer in the world of underwater robotics and the start of many future cloud-driven innovations for Aquabotix.”
The Live Remote Viewing product feature is designed for use across a wide range of industries, including aquaculture and infrastructure. For the aquaculture industry in particular, which continues to grow exponentially, the feature will enable higher quality, more cost-effective inspections of fish farms. Customers will now have access to continuous live feeds from the Endura ROV that can monitor the condition of the fish and nets, inspect moorings and assess feeding habits to prevent overfeeding.
Live Remote Viewing is now available to all Aquabotix customers. Current customers will not receive an upcharge to utilize Live Remote Viewing, but are required to register an account with Aquabotix to access live, secure feeds through the feature.
For more information about Live Remote Viewing and other Aquabotix’s products, please visit www.aquabotix.com.
Tel: +1 617-275-6522
One of the most common uses for commercial underwater remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) is in conducting inspections of water tanks, ship hulls, and submerged infrastructure such as bridge components or dams. A critical element of these inspections is measuring the thickness of metal components like hulls or girders. How do ROVs conduct this type of measurement?
On the Aquabotix Endura line of high-performance commercial ROVs, we offer the Cygnus NDT Metal Thickness gauge as an optional accessory. These gauges use ultrasound technology to measure the thickness of metal objects underwater. By emitting an ultrasonic beam into the surface of the metal and analyzing the return sound, the Cygnus NDT can measure metal of thicknesses up to 10”, even through coatings such as paint up to 0.787” thick.
The Cygnus NDT is extremely easy to use. The included CygLink software allows the ROV operator to visualize the tool’s measurements remotely on the video feed. To make things even easier, the optional Cygnus Probe Handler automatically aligns the probe to the wall or item being measured, with 15 degrees of movement, even if the operator has not perfectly approached the measurement subject.
Tools like the Cygnus greatly enhance the utility of our Endura ROVs. As ROVs take on more responsible roles in things like underwater inspections, the need for tools such as the Cygnus will continue to grow.
Aquaculture and fisheries are a major source of the world’s protein production, and while fisheries are stagnating somewhat due to overconsumption, aquaculture production is growing at tremendous rates. As aquaculture facilities fill in the most desirable coastal locations, it is a certainty that future growth will take place in deeper water, where use of human labor will be more expensive and much more dangerous. One major job that will require significant automation in order to be economically practical is monitoring the aquaculture facility.
Aquaculture facilities require careful monitoring of a number of important parameters. The environment itself needs to be monitored for water quality, temperature, current, and so forth. Operators also need to be able to inspect hardware such as nets and cages, to count fish in particular enclosures, to locate dead fish, to check nutrient levels, to measure fish stress levels, and more. All of this information gathering is often done by human labor at onshore or shallow-water facilities, but that is impractical when the aquaculture facility is far offshore. Operators can’t hire from the local community when the local community is underwater – they have to use automated remote monitoring technology. Even in facilities where human labor is available, the cost and liability requirements of human workers will make automated remote monitoring a useful adjunct.
A number of different types of remote sensor can be used to monitor aquaculture operations, but one of the most generally useful instruments is also one of the simplest: a video camera. High-definition video cameras can capture a wide range of data both above the water and beneath the surface. Advances in robot vision, that is, the ability of computers to understand and utilize video feeds, mean that a huge number of video camera feeds can be interpreted by computerized systems. The aquaculture base can monitor types and numbers of fish in an area, examine nets and gates for damage, scan the bottom underneath fixed pens to check contamination levels, and even assess the weather pattern. AquaLens Connect, the underwater camera system from Aquabotix, has been built to withstand and excel in these challenging conditions. It features a full 1080p HD video with live view, push button recording, pan and tilt.
Aquaculture requires a great deal of management and assessment to be effective and profitable. Feed levels have to be continually adjusted to prevent excessive buildup of nutrients in the wastewater, fish populations have to be counted and their health checked, incursions from predators have to be seen to be mitigated, and physical infrastructure, always susceptible to storm damage, has to be kept in trim through regular inspection and maintenance. All of these tasks require that the aquaculture operator be aware of the condition of the facility. Stationary video cameras, as well as ROV-based roving cameras, provide a cost-effective means of achieving this goal.
Depending on which maritime body you ask, there are somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 large ships sailing the world’s oceans, with cargo vessels, passenger ships, and warships making up the bulk of this number. Commercial vessels are required to have their hulls inspected on an annual basis, and military vessels generally follow a similar inspection regimen. There are various global and national bodies which provide certification standards, such as ABS (American Bureau of Shipping) and Lloyds of London. The goal of inspecting large vessels is to protect the owners of the ships, the crews, the passengers, the companies using the ships, and the insurance industry.
There are a variety of different certification standards, but the standard ABS inspection regimen is fairly typical for the industry. The ABS regimen is known as HIMP, which stands for Hull Inspection and Maintenance Program. HIMP has a three-tiered system of inspections, with annual inspections, three-year inspections, and five-year inspections. The three- and five-year inspection tiers encompass all the inspection areas of the lower tiers, while adding further areas of the ship to the inspection list. HIMP inspections cover the entire vessel, but the underwater portion of the survey is the trickiest for ship owners. Underwater surveys can be conducted by human divers, but increasingly this job is being handled by remote-operated vehicles (ROVs).
On a commercial vessel, the diver or ROV must provide visual data on the stern and rudder bearings, the sea suctions and sea valves, the propellers, and – most time-consuming - the hull plating. The inspection must look at any markings on the hull, all inlets and discharges, the rudder, the propeller, and all other objects that protrude from the hull. Corroded or damaged areas must be examined closely, and although thickness testing is not automatically part of the HIMP, any area found to be damaged or corroded is likely to be examined internally and have the thickness tested at the affected spot(s).
Military vessels follow a similar inspection regimen, and many military vessels will also have stencil-marked areas of the hull which need to be looked at. Inspections will check the hull and other secondary areas of the vessel for biofouling, to assess the need for having the ship’s bottom scraped. Inspections generally involve several waterline-to-waterline underwater traversals of the vessel, following the seams of welded sections. Propellers need to be inspected on both their front and rear facings.
In the early years of ROVs, their use in underwater hull inspections was relatively rare because the low video quality of early vehicles made their results of marginal utility to inspectors. Today however, with true HD displays and cameras on even consumer-level ROVs, these useful vehicles are an integral tool for large hull inspections. Since inspection divers need to be ABS-certified, many surveying companies are finding that it is highly useful to conduct a pre-inspection using an ROV only. This pre-inspection can find any problems that already exist so that they can be mitigated before the actual inspection, preventing a time-consuming, and expensive, temporary suspension of the vehicle’s certification when the inspector finds significant problems.
An offshore windfarm is an array of power-generating wind turbines usually built in the shallow water close to the coastline. Offshore wind power has three main advantages over land-based wind power: the wind directly offshore is usually stronger and steadier than it would be inland, the windfarm can be placed very close to the urban area that will be using the power, and there is less “not-in-my-backyard” opposition from local residents, since the local residents are mainly fish. The primary disadvantage of offshore wind farms is that they are much more expensive to build and maintain than other forms of low-carbon power generation.
The European Union is by far the world leader in offshore wind generation, with about 10 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. China and Canada both have modest windfarm operations and India is working on windfarm development, while the United States will open its first operational windfarm in late 2016 off Block Island in Rhode Island. Despite the high costs of offshore wind power development, projections of installed capacity continue to grow; the European Union expects to have between 20 and 40 GW of capacity online by 2020, and China perhaps optimistically expects to have 30 GW by the same year.
The primary component of an offshore windfarm is the wind turbine - the huge set of blades set atop an enormous pole, which spin as the wind blows. To achieve maximum effect, turbines need to be high off the surface of the water, so the pole must be very long - more than 200 meters. Such a large structure must be anchored extremely securely to the seabed, and there are a number of ways in which this is done. Regardless of the exact nature of the structural engineering, the underwater structures of offshore wind turbines need to be inspected on a regular basis.
In the United States, offshore windfarm inspections will be under the oversight of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). BSEE’s draft standards draw heavily on the experience of the United Kingdom, and lay out an inspection regime that concentrates a great deal of attention on the turbines themselves, naturally enough. However, the underwater bases of the turbines come in for their share of attention as well.
BSEE draft standards will likely require that windfarms be inspected on an annual basis, with 20% of a farm’s individual turbines and foundations inspected in each annual cycle. Critical components should be evaluated annually, while less critical areas can be inspected as infrequently as every five years. Foundations need to be checked for structural health, bioaccumulation, scouring, spalling, and corrosion. Subsea cables need to be inspected for damage due to sand, marine animals, or anchoring. BSEE suggests that general visual inspections can be carried out by ROVs, while close visual inspections need to be done by human divers.
BSEE standards are likely to recommend the use of ROVs specifically in order to reduce risks to human divers. Because there are often powerful tidal currents around the foundations of structures like wind turbine foundations, this can be a dangerous dive environment for humans. There is a great deal of general visual inspection work that needs to be done, but where an extremely close view is simply not required; the inspection needs to check the general condition of the pilings and caissons, for example. In this work, putting a human diver into the water isn’t necessary, as an ROV can provide the needed visual check.
(Primary source: http://www.bsee.gov/uploadedFiles/BSEE/Technology_and_Research/Technology_Assessment_Programs/Reports/700-799/747AA.pdf)
There are almost 80,000 dams in the US Army Corps of Engineers National Inventory of Dams (NID), and that isn’t even a comprehensive list; the NID only covers dams which reach a minimum height and which hold back a minimum volume of water. There are many thousands of other dams, on private and government land, which are used for irrigation, flood control, aquaculture, drinking water, industrial use, and a myriad of other applications. Although most of these dams are extremely useful, they can also pose a serious danger to people and objects downstream of the dam. For obvious reasons, dam failure can have catastrophic consequences.
Accordingly, it is critically important that dams be inspected on a regular basis. The federal government, via the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provides guidelines for inspections on dams under federal control. These guidelines suggest that dams should receive an informal “eyes-on” inspection as needed or following any significant incident at a dam (such as a flood, an earthquake, or vandalism), as well as a more thorough intermediate inspection of the dam and all related structures on an annual basis. Federal guidelines also suggest a formal full inspection of the dam be carried out at least every five years, with a full special inspection to be conducted when there is a major event such as a large flood or a major earthquake. Around 3,200 dams in the United States are owned outright by the federal government, and another 5,200 or so are not owned by the government but are located on government land. Although there are some complications about the regulation of those non-federally-owned dams, all told about 10% of the largest American dams fall under the federal guidelines.
The remainder of the dams in the United States are regulated by the state governments, with the notable exception of Alabama which leaves dams essentially unregulated. The state laws and regulations are a fairly diverse patchwork; some states require inspections to be paid for by the dam owners, while other states put that expense on the taxpayer. A few states like Texas do not have a formal inspection schedule at all (although inspections are strongly suggested) while most states have stringent schedules and extensive systems of classifications for which kinds of dams must be inspected and how often.
In general, however, in most places, dams are supposed to be inspected at intervals ranging from annually to every five years. The size of the dam’s impoundment (the volume of water the dam is holding back) and the population of the area in the dam’s potential flood area are the major factors determining how often and how stringent such inspections must be. Again depending on the location, inspections can be carried out by divers or by surface inspection, usually with at least some underwater work being required. Clearly, there is an astonishingly large amount of inspection work called for in the dam safety regulations.
ROVs play a major role in accomplishing the difficult task of inspecting dams while leaving them in service. Many dams are simply not able to be “turned off” so that an inspection can take place. Even when dams are equipped with the ability to dewater areas for inspection or repair, such dewatering is time-consuming and expensive. ROVs and human divers are able to work in areas of the dam without having to go through the dewatering process, saving large amounts of money.
One area where ROVs have saved enormous sums for dam owners is in assessing the need for cleaning of trashracks, reservoirs, and head ponds. Rather than adhering to a calendar schedule for the dredging of such ancillary dam components, an ROV inspection using sonar can inexpensively check whether an area needs to be dredged at all.
Of even more importance than saving money is saving lives. At many dams, particularly hydropower dams, there are areas where it is very dangerous for a human diver to enter the water. High water flows and high pressure differentials can be life-threatening conditions. The use of an ROV allows dive teams to conduct preliminary safety assessments, measuring flow, depth, and water temperature before ever putting a human being into the water. ROVs have also been used to check safety concerns such as the open or closed status of a head gate, where a gap of a few inches in a nominally “closed” gate could pose a lethal risk to a diver in the area.
At large dams with deep water areas, ROVs have the ability to work deeper than human divers without needing mixed-gas equipment. (Divers going below 30 meters require decompression tanks and other specialized equipment that make a dive more expensive.) By using divers for shallow work at a dam, and ROVs for the deeper dives, a cleaning or inspection process can be accomplished at much less expense. In addition, ROVs can conduct survey work using tools such as multibeam sonar more efficiently than human dive teams. As dam infrastructure ages, inspections of components like downstream draft tube slabs require a great deal of precise surveying work to assess the condition of the slab.
As in many other areas of underwater work, ROVs are capable of making a large contribution to the jobs being done by human divers. ROVs make underwater work safer, more effective, and less expensive.
There is a story – probably apocryphal – that one of the early Roman emperors was approached by an inventor who had created a steam-powered device for moving huge marble columns around, an invention of obvious interest to the monument-building Romans. The emperor rewarded the man for his innovation, but declined to purchase the device for the empire, stating that he had a city full of workmen who needed to eat, and the invention would put them all out of work. In the modern era, most of us recognize that the addition of powered machinery doesn’t permanently take jobs away from workers; rather, it changes the nature of their work, usually for the better. Today’s construction machine operators make a lot more money and work a lot more safely than did the burly gangs of workmen in Roman times.
In many ways, we’re smarter than our Roman forerunners. Today we are a lot more likely to see opportunity in new technology, not threats. Commercial divers sometimes worry about ROVs undercutting them on price for some kinds of jobs, but the opportunities for new business provided by ROVs are a much larger vein of possible work. ROVs represent an affordable way for divers to expand their businesses by increasing the human diver’s capabilities while simultaneously cutting costs and improving safety. ROVs are not going to replace human divers – instead, they are going to add to those divers’ ability to work productively underwater.
Diving is difficult and often dangerous work. It’s uncommon for a client to need a diver to conduct a brief excursion in crystal-clear waters in order to do some trivial task. Rather, divers are asked to handle hard jobs in unpleasant and sometimes unsafe conditions. Many times, a job can’t be done because there’s no way to do it safely. ROVs can change that, because an ROV worth a few thousand dollars can be risked in many situations where a human life would be at too much risk. That ability to run additional risks with only hardware on the line can actually improve the ability of a dive team to take on a job, because the ROV can scout the work and establish whether or not it actually is a human-achievable job.
Many diving jobs involve a great deal of reconnaissance and scouting in order to do an hour’s worth of actual work. For example, in a salvage operation, a diver may spend days looking around a site and finding the items that are worth retrieving, then do the actual salvage work in an afternoon. However, all of that scouting time is just as expensive, just as dangerous, and just as exhausting as the actual paying work at the end. An ROV doesn’t require a trained commercial diver for its operation; the diver can hire support personnel (who work a lot cheaper) to do the scout work with a controlled ROV, then go into the water herself later on when the job is narrowed down. Same payday, but a lot less cost upfront – plus the diver can work more actual jobs.
Some jobs which require a human diver can actually be done under a diver’s direction but without the diver having to go into the water, or at least not having to go in as much. For example, hull inspections or damage surveys often involve putting eyes on the target, but don’t require any hands-on work. A diver reviewing an ROVs video feed can do just as good a job as if they had been in the water the entire time – but again, with much lower costs and no risk. Remember, risk costs money – in insurance premiums, in medical expenses, in training costs – and reducing risk is effectively the same as putting money back in your pocket.
Even hands-on work like underwater repair can be made more efficient and less stressful with intelligent use of ROVs. ROVs can be used to survey the worksite and get good information into the dive planner’s hands before anyone puts a foot in the water. And while the divers are actually working in the water, other staff can use ROVs to keep eyes on other areas of the work site, or to fetch tools and parts without a lengthy surfacing process. We profit and grow when we see the potentials unlocked by technological change.
Divers who adapt to the technological innovation coming to the industry by adopting the new tools that ROV technology is making available are going to be able to do more work, to do it better, and to do it safer than they were doing it before. Adding ROVs to an existing dive business requires challenging some ideas about how the business should run, but it’s a change that will pay off.
The safety of our drinking water supply is a serious matter. By now everyone is familiar with the tragic situation in Flint, Michigan, where a decision to switch the municipal water system led to massive lead contamination in the drinking water. The Flint tragedy had numerous causes, but one lesson to be learned is that regular inspection of the physical water system is critically important. If the infrastructure of the Flint system had been adequately inspected, it is possible that officials would have been aware of the problem at an earlier date. When it comes time to inspect a water system – whether a giant municipal potable water supply or a small private tank like a facility storage tank – remote operated vehicles (ROVs) offer a number of advantages over other methods.
In the pre-ROV era, tank inspections meant either sending a human diver into the tank (posing risks to the safety of both the water supply and the human diver) or draining the whole tank and inspecting it dry. Both of these approaches have serious drawbacks. Using ROVs as the centerpiece for a tank inspection strategy has some enormous advantages over the older method.
The Tank Doesn’t Need to be Drained
Draining a water tank is a wasteful and expensive process. A municipal potable water supply tank can be millions of gallons of water – even tens of millions of gallons. It’s rare for there to be any productive use for all that water being drained at once – it literally flows out into the sewers and is gone. Not only that, but the water system the tank was supporting is then left high and dry while the inspection takes place. ROVs permit the tank to be left filled and in service while the inspection is taking place, saving both time and money.
No Risk to Human Divers or the Water System
Human divers cost a lot of money. Training, equipment, insurance – the list goes on. If there’s a safety incident, the financial cost alone can be huge, to say nothing of the human cost. In addition, to send a human diver into a potable water system, the diver must be sterilized – a difficult, unwieldy and unpleasant process, and one which if done improperly can compromise the safety of the entire water system.
ROVs, on the other hand, are relatively inexpensive and, compared to a human life, completely expendable. Because they are small and mechanical, they are much easier to sterilize for use in a potable water environment. Best of all, ROVs don’t charge extra for working a long shift!
Low Barrier to Entry
Certified divers are skilled professionals and scarce in some locales. By comparison, becoming proficient in operation of the Aquabotix ROV is a matter of three days of practice with the vehicle. Divers require support teams, so a minimum of two people are going to be on the job site, but an ROV is a one-person operation. Aquabotix ROVs come complete with recording capability (allowing the operator to take video footage, snap photographs, and record data from onboard instrumentation) and can operate on battery power alone.
Built-In Data Gathering
Every measurement a human diver takes requires them to carry (and learn the operation of) another sensor or instrument. ROVs, on the other hand, can carry built-in sensor suites that have all of the needed data-gathering equipment for any given inspection mission. For example, thermal stratification (water forming temperature layers or clines) can prevent mixing of water in a tank, which can reduce the efficacy of chlorine or chloramines in disinfecting the water. ROVs carry temperature and depth sensors which will automatically record and report the temperature and depth throughout the vehicle’s inspection cruise, automatically producing an easily-read report showing problem areas. There are many other environmental sensors available for ROVs which can quickly collect enormous amounts of data that would take a human diver multiple dives, at great expense, to gather. For example, ROVs can carry a Cygnus NDT metal thickness gauge, allowing the vehicle to test the thickness of the tank wall at hundreds or even thousands of points during an inspection.
Increased Frequency of Monitoring
As become sadly evident in the case of Flint, a water system can develop problems very quickly. Because ROV-based inspections are so much less expensive and so much more convenient than diver or draining inspections, they can be performed at much shorter intervals. That means, for example, that a problem like Flint’s (which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fix) might instead have been caught when it could have been fixed for a few million. Frequent inspections greatly increase the chance of catching minor problems while they are still minor.
ROV-based inspections of water systems, particularly water tanks, save water and money, reduce the risk to human life, increase the safety of the water supply, are easier for small municipalities and operations to do for themselves, and collect valuable data at a lower cost than other options. There will continue to be need for human divers in some applications, but ROVs greatly expand our ability to inspect, and to keep safe, our water systems.