Remotely operated vehicles

ROV Doc Ricketts launched from Research Vessel Western Flyer

Remotely operated vehicle Doc Ricketts tethered to Research Vessel Western Flyer

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are robotic submarines that are tethered to a ship, where “pilots” control their movement and actions. MBARI’s two ROVs—Ventana and Doc Ricketts—are equipped with manipulator arms for grabbing, moving, or placing items in the sea. High-definition video and still cameras on the vehicles record images of sea life, geology, and experiments. The vehicles carry a variety of sampling equipment and sensors for collecting information about the ocean and seafloor.

The tether from the ROV to the ship delivers power to the vehicle and data and video images from the vehicle back to the ship, where they are recorded. The tether must be carefully monitored during ROV missions to prevent kinking, bending, abrasion, or breakage.

The ROVs have several toolsleds—metal frames that are bolted underneath the main body of the ROV—outfitted for various scientific missions. By putting most of the discipline-specific tools on the toolsled, it is easy to switch the tools out from say a biology dive to a geology dive, and minimizes the turnaround time between dives. For instance, scientists studying the gelatinous animals in the midwater, may use a suction sampler, which is a kind of “slurp gun” that sucks animals into a plastic canister to bring them back to shore, while scientists studying the ocean floor might use push cores, foot-long clear plastic tubes that are pushed into the seafloor to pull out samples of the sediment for further study.

At Sea

Research Vessel Western Flyer
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ROV Doc Ricketts
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ROV Doc Ricketts

ROV Doc Ricketts is capable of diving to 4,000 meters (about 2.5 miles). The Western Flyer is the support vessel for Doc Ricketts and was designed with a center well whose floor can be opened to allow Doc Ricketts to be launched from within the ship into the water below.
Launching the ROV Ventana

ROV Ventana

The hydraulically powered ROV Ventana is launched by crane from the deck of the R/V Rachel Carson over the side of the ship. It can reach depths of 1,850 meters (more than a mile).