For the first time since 1960, US scientists will be able to explore the deepest parts of the world’s oceans, up to seven miles below the surface, with a novel underwater vehicle capable of performing multiple tasks in extreme conditions. Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are developing a battery-powered underwater robot to enable scientists to explore the ocean’s most remote regions up to 11,000 meters (36,000-feet) deep.
The hybrid remotely operated vehicle, or HROV, will be able to operate in two modes: as an autonomous, or free-swimming, vehicle for wide area surveys, and as a tethered, or cabled, vehicle for close-up sampling and other tasks. In the latter mode, it will use a novel fiber optic micro cable only one thirty-second of an inch thick, a major departure from the large heavy cables typically used with tethered vehicles. The deep-sea vehicle will require new technologies such as ceramic housings for cameras and other electronic equipment to withstand the pressures at the vehicle’s extreme operating depths.
Funding for the four-year, $5-million HROV project is provided by the National Science Foundation, with additional support from the US Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Principal investigators are Andrew Bowen and Dana Yoerger of WHOI’s Deep Submergence Laboratory (DSL) in the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department and Louis Whitcomb, an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Whitcomb is also a visiting investigator in DSL. The new vehicle will undergo initial trails in three years.
Shelley Dawicki | WHOI
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