National Geographic Explorer's Remotely Operated Vehicle


One of our most fascinating tools on board the National Geographic Explorer is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). It is essentially a tethered underwater robot that can be sent down into depths too deep or too dangerous for a SCUBA diver to reach. This amazing submersible is controlled remotely by a person, usually our Undersea Specialist, safely located aboard its mother vessel…a modified Zodiac inflatable boat. The ROV is directly connected to control panel via a 240-meter (800-foot) long tube that contains a multitude of individual cables carrying electrical power, video, and other data signals. The main tube is filled with oil in order to protect the cables from the effects of salt water, such as corrosion and shorting out. The machine is highly maneuverable and is moved about through the control of four individual propellers that can operate in all three planes…forward-backward, right-left, and up-down. In the hands of an expert, it can be maneuvered with incredible precision and its high definition video camera (encased in an underwater housing) and powerful lights can produce professional grade videos of seldom-seen creatures, objects, and events…even at depths well below the penetration zone of sunlight.

We believe the marine world is an important aspect of all of our expeditions, and it is the job of the Undersea Specialist to bring that part of the world to us in the form of underwater video programs, especially when swimming and snorkeling is not practical for our guests. If the point of interest is deeper than about 30 meters (100 feet), time constraints make it difficult for underwater filming. This is where the ROV proves so useful to us. In fact, many of the places we are able to explore with our ROV are new to science, and our Undersea Specialists are careful to document these sites and their associated marine life for the benefit of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. 

The first ROVs were developed for the U.S. Navy in the 1960s. Their primary missions were to perform deep-sea rescues and recover objects from the ocean floor, such as lost munitions. After a few years of successful operations, the oil industry saw the usefulness of these vehicles and quickly developed a work class ROV to assist in the development of offshore oil fields. By the 1980s, when deep sea oil wells became prevalent and human divers could no longer do much of the physical labor on the rigs, ROVs became essential. They are often used for simple inspections, but can be modified to do actual construction work. In reecent years, ROVs have been used to help find and explore several famous shipwrecks, such as the RMS Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck.

Our ROV can work in depths up to about 200 meters (660 feet), but military and scientific models can reach about 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). Keeping in mind that more than half of the sea floor is deeper than this, much of the world’s oceanic territory has yet to be explored.

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