What are ROVs?

Monday, April 4, 2022 / The Blueye Office

Remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) have seen tremendous growth in the blue economy in recent years. As operations continue to be digitized, ROVs offer a convenient and economical solution to a host of traditional problems in industries as varied as oil and gas, shipping, research, and security. In this blog post we’ll take a step back and learn about these technologies, how they are used, where they can be found, and why they represent such an opportunity for value.

A bit about ROVs

ROVs were first developed with military applications in mind during the mid-20th century, with innovation accelerating rapidly in recent years. Virtually any industry dealing with underwater assets will have a potential use case. ROVs consist of a robot that operates underwater and is connected to a user via a tether (or a sturdier cable if operating at lower depths). Blueye drones will have at least a camera and light, but the X3 brings added value by way of additional peripherals and integrations—more on that below!

Pilots and Blueye drones Photo: Blueye Robotics

How are ROVs used?

ROVs, unlike fully autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), require a user on one end to control the drone. How this happens varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but with Blueye products the user can either use a remote controller or operate the drone using the Blueye app. With an Xbox controller and an iOS or Android device it is possible to manipulate the drone along three axes while looking at the live video in the Blueye app. However, it’s also possible to control the drone directly in the app by using the touch screen. This is particularly beneficial in an area like aquaculture, where a worker can use the drone quickly to get a look at one specific point if potential problems have been seen from above the water.

Piloting by the pen Photo: Blueye Robotics

Beyond the physical control of the drone, there are diverse ways that ROVs can bring value to users. First and foremost is via the drone itself, using it to go places quickly and show the person on the other end what’s happening below the surface. In addition to this, different integrations can be added to the drone to enhance its capabilities. A prime example of this is the Cygnus integration now offered on Blueye’s X-3 model, which allows the user not just to see a hull but to measure its thickness.

Blueye X3 with Cygnus integration Photo: Blueye Robotics

Why use an ROV?

ROVs are advantageous for many reasons and in many use cases. We’ll focus on three particular verticals here—inspection, research, and aquaculture—where ROVs in general and Blueye drones in particular represent innovative tools.

Inspections can be a costly and time-consuming process. For shipping companies crossing the world’s oceans in warmer waters hull fouling—the accumulation of organisms on the ship hull—is a frequent problem. Hull fouling can lead to decreased speed, increased full consumption, and—in dramatic cases—difficulties in pulling into port. Staying on top of this is incredibly important for ship captains, and with a Blueye drone this has never been easier. Instead of relying on contracting a human diver to take a look at the problem, a ship can use their Blueye drone to check the hull status.

Having eyes under the water is also an advantage in research. In applications ranging from biology to underwater archaeology, using a Blueye drone with grippers is an excellent way to manipulate objects and return samples from the seabed. In addition to its practical use, controlling a Blueye drone puts students in direct contact with their subject matter. This isn’t just abstract data; they can see and interact with the undersea environment in a way previously reserved for diving and submarines—costly and at times bureaucratic alternatives.

Blueye X3 and lice lazer Photo: Blueye Robotics

Finally, aquaculture represents an industry that is almost tailor-made for ROVs like Blueye’s products to have an impact. Like with hull fouling, aquaculture nets suffer from their prolonged exposure to underwater environments. Checking net quality and status ensures that problems can be solved before they arise, making sure that fish don’t escape their farms. This has the double effect of saving money while also helping the environment. A Blueye armed with a gripper offers more than just another set of eyes, as it can retrieve tools that have been dropped and lost to the sea.

Where are ROVs used?

ROVs are used almost anywhere and everywhere under the water—from just under the surface to the depths of the Mariana Trench, which is over 10,000 meters below the sea. Blueye drones operate at depths of up to 300 meters, with future versions aiming for a limit of 500 meters. Beyond depth, ROVs can be operated in almost any geographic area. Being based in Trondheim, Norway, Blueye is lucky enough to be able to design and test our drones in some of the harshest and coldest waters in which any drone would operate. This is why we have designed our products to withstand a minimum of –5°C as well as a maximum of 35°C operating temperature.

Summary

ROVs are drones that allow users to see beneath the sea. They can be used in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes. Within industries such as shipping, research, and aquaculture, workers use Blueye drones to accomplish tasks such as inspecting hulls, gathering marine samples, and identifying holes in fishing nets. Drones can operate at extreme depths and near the surface, but Blueye drones have found a comfortable operating depth of up to 300 meters—for now! ROVs should be expected to operate reliably under wildly different conditions, and at Blueye we have taken advantage of the mid-Norwegian climate to ensure that our droned operate in frigid waters just as comfortably as in the Tropics.

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