Until the advent of diving gear, people knew very little about what went on underwater. And even though the gear has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past few hundred years, diving is still risky business. And the deeper you go, the riskier it gets.
Fortunately, modern technology has enabled the construction of ROVs, or Remotely Operated Vehicles, that can dive deep underwater and capture video of events taking place there while the operators remain safely on the surface.
When you think of underwater ROVs, names like Jacques Cousteau and Robert Ballard come to mind. But ROVs are also used by treasure hunters, underwater forensics, rescue workers, underwater archeologists, fishermen, nature videographers, underwater oil rig repairmen, tsunami scientists, fishery operators, spies, cave divers and so on. The whole world anxiously watched ROV footage of the attempts to plug the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that leaked oil after an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, in April, 2010.
When you think of ROVs you tend to think of them being used solely on a professional basis, and quite often, that’s the case. But you can purchase your very own ROV for well under $7,000. B&H sells them. Yes. You can use it to find treasure or whatever else you like.
The ROVs we’re talking about are made by VideoRay, a company that specializes in them, and there are different models to choose from. There are entry-level systems ideal for civilian use and more advanced units better suited for commercial use. The VideoRay Scout Economy ROV System is an entry-level ROV for people on a budget—however generous the budget might be. The system includes an advanced control panel, a 40-meter tether and the submersible Scout ROV that houses a video camera and lighting equipment.
Rated to 250 feet, the Scout ROV has a maximum speed of 1.9 knots. Two thrusters provide horizontal propulsion and a third provides vertical propulsion. The submersible's wide-angle camera offers viewing angles of 90° horizontal, 140° diagonal and 420 lines of resolution. Dark depths are no match for the submersible’s twin 20-watt halogen lights, whose intensity can be adjusted from the surface via the control panel. The control panel and Scout ROV are linked together by a neutrally buoyant 130-foot tether with an 8mm diameter and a breaking strength of 1000 pounds.
The control panel is powered by 100 to 240 volts AC, and it feeds up to 48 volts DC to the ROV through the tether. It features an integrated joystick, a depth-control knob, a 7-inch color display and a composite video output. You’ll need an external video recording device with a composite video input if you want to record what the ROV encounters.
Moving up the ladder, the VideoRay Explorer Economy ROV System offers greater functionality than the Scout system, at slightly greater cost. Otherwise similar to the Scout ROV system, the Explorer’s wide-angle camera offers 570 lines of resolution and the ability to tilt 160°, allowing more precise framing of the subject matter. In addition to the features found on the Scout’s control panel, the Explorer’s control panel adds manual camera controls for focus and tilt, along with LCD readouts that show depth, a compass heading and a run time meter. Like the Scout ROV, the Explorer ROV is available in NTSC and PAL versions.
Moving farther up the ladder, the VideoRay Pro 3 GTO Professional ROV System offers greater power, speed and functionality for demanding applications. The Pro 3 GTO is powerful enough to handle large payloads such as imaging sonars, recording devices, object retrieval manipulators, positioning systems, sensors, gauges and more. The Pro 3 GTO ROV has a depth rating of 500 feet and a maximum speed of 4.1 knots. The system comes with a 330-foot neutrally buoyant 10mm tether. Tether extensions can be added up to 1,000 feet total length, as long as the operator does not exceed the ROV’s 500-foot depth limitation. The tether can be reeled in quickly using the included slip ring and hand crank, which comes in its own case.
The Pro 3 GTO ROV houses two cameras; a wide-angle forward-facing color camera with 570 lines of resolution and a rear-facing hi-resolution black-and-white camera with 430 lines of resolution. The front camera has 160° variable tilt and twin 20-watt halogen lamps, while the fixed rear camera uses a high-intensity LED array to illuminate the surroundings. The Pro 3 control panel features a 15-inch color display for monitoring the ROV’s video feed. A third-axis joystick control can be used to control ROV depth, camera tilt, lights or a manipulator, if one has been attached. The control panel also comes in its own watertight case.
The Pro 3 GTO ROV comes with an inverter so it can be powered from a 12-volt power source such as a car battery. It also comes with a sunshade and a basic tool kit and ballast set. The entire system weighs 105 pounds and packs into a watertight Pelican case. The Pro 3 GTO ROV is available in NTSC and PAL versions.
Moving farthest up the ladder we find the VideoRay P4 CD 300BASE Commercial Dive ROV System. This unit includes VideoRay’s Cockpit Control Software and a Core i7-powered notebook computer with a 15-inch display; everything can be controlled and monitored from the computer and a wireless USB programmable hand controller with one-button video and still-image recording. A Video Overlay system lets you record the date, time, depth, heading, customized text and logos over the video feed.
The P4 ROV submersible has a maximum speed of 4.2 knots and a 1,000-foot depth rating making it ideal for deep underwater inspection when it’s not practical or possible to deploy divers. With the exception of having just a single camera, the P4 ROV system has the same features as the Pro 3 GTO ROV System. The P4’s camera works in color or black and white with more than 20 settings that the operator can execute. Illumination is provided by dual 24-LED arrays with 3600 lumens of brightness. Integrated sensors include a 3D tilt-compensated compass, an accelerometer, a MEMS gyro, a leak indicator, operating volt meter, water temperature and internal temperature.
The entire VideoRay P4 CD 300BASE Commercial Dive ROV System weighs 121.4 pounds and it all packs into a watertight 1620 Pelican case with a custom interior. The P4 system is available in NTSC and PAL versions.
The VideoRay ROVs are affordable enough so that anyone who really wants one can have one. But they are also of high enough quality and loaded with enough features for professional use. In fact, underwater footage captured by VideoRay ROVs has been used in many broadcast television and film productions, including the History Channel’s Deep Sea Detectives and Monsterquest series, CBS’s CSI Las Vegas, BBC’s Primeval and various Discovery Channel and NOVA productions.