What’s an ROV?

Learn about ROVs and other technology that helps us study the sea

When thinking about the world, it is easy to forget that the majority of our planet consists of our ocean. As 71% of Earth, it is fair to assume that there is more to explore about all depths of the ocean than we can even imagine. In order to continue to learn from our ocean and all that inhabits it, and better understand how human activities affect it, it is essential that researchers and engineers consistently innovate and reevaluate how we do this. 

Beginning in the 1870s with the Challenger Expedition, modern oceanography has made massive strides in documenting the marine world and has helped us know more about the planet. Since then, there has been an exponential increase in the amount of research conducted on these environments and the technology we use to make sense of it all. A prime example of this important technology is the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV).

What is an ROV?

An ROV is a device that is tethered to a larger vessel and directly controlled by a human operator at the surface. There are multiple tasks that a ROV can complete while launched from the vessel, including stopping, hovering and collecting samples from the ocean floor. Each ROV is equipped with a camera that allows the operator to see the machine’s surroundings and navigate areas even deep-sea divers cannot reach. For example, we may all know the story of the famous Titanic shipwreck, but what many may not know is that it was through the use of ROVs that scientists were able to take a closer look at the remainders of the ship, how the saltwater interacted with the ship’s hull and how organisms made habitats out of the wreckage. 

An ROV explores the Titanic underwater

ROVS can collect a wide range of data and can include sensors that measure temperature, depth, pH level, oxygen concentration and more. They also have manipulative arms that allow scientists to reach out and collect samples of sediment, deep sea organisms and more—all while using a device that’s like a video game joystick. 

So, what are the characteristics of an ROV? For example, the EV Nautilus’ ROV, Hercules, which can travel more than 13,000 feet below the surface and approximately 150 feet from the ship, is about 13 feet long and 7 feet tall. It can travel about two miles per hour and carry about 250 pounds of samples. See more ROV examples and photos of expeditions here

The ability to conduct firsthand observations without the limitations of the human body is one of the main reasons ROVs are invaluable to the continued research of the ocean and the organisms that inhabit it. ROVs, however, are not the only inventions used in exploring our ocean.

An ROV explores underwater

What other similar technology exists?

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles—AUVs

While ROVs are essential to studying our ocean, they still require direct navigation from a researcher and tethering to their ships.  One technological device that can complete a pre-planned mission on its own is the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). AUVs provide many benefits for deep water research. Once the AUV is deployed, it can collect high-resolution data that is stored within its computer system to be retrieved by the researchers at the completion of the mission.

Human Operated Vehicles—HOVs

There are also a number of ocean research devices that allow researchers to get up close and personal with marine life. This is where Human Operated Vehicles (HOVs) come into play. When trying to study the deep sea, there are physiological roadblocks that can block the way of divers, including intense pressure and chilling temperatures that humans are not equipped to endure. By using an HOV, a small group of scientists can conduct in-person research and firsthand observations of the activity along the seafloor. With their insights, we can learn more about the organisms that live in a starkly different environment to ours.

As we celebrate the progress in deep-sea research, it is also exciting to know there is so much more ocean to explore with the promise of even more capable ocean technology in the future. Researchers and scientists in all disciplines recognize the immense relevance the ocean has on our planet and our lives;’ we must do what we can to protect and understand all that our ocean imparts.

Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
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