The Waitt Institute owns and operates a midsized remotely operated vehicle (ROV) manufactured by Saab Seaeye: the Seaeye Falcon DR. The Falcon has a maximum operating depth of 1,000 meters or 3,281 feet. It is 3.3 feet long, two feet wide and just under three feet high, roughly the size of the average dorm room refrigerator. It is constructed with a rugged polypropylene frame and glass reinforced polyester syntactic foam to provide buoyancy; it weighs 300 lbs in air.
The Falcon has five magnetically coupled thrusters that use brushless DC motors to provide the vehicle’s propulsion. Four of these are horizontal thrusters located at each corner of the vehicle and can provide about 30 lbs of thrust forward or backward. The horizontal thruster is located at the top center of the vehicle and channels water up or down through a tunnel in the syntactic block used to push the vehicle up or down in the water column. The Institute’s ROV can be trimmed to be neutral or slightly buoyant.
The Falcon DR in its minimal configuration carries a single function manipulator arm that allows it to hold objects and maneuver them as needed. The Waitt Institute ROV is also configured with tooling skid, attached to the bottom of the vehicle, that carries everything needed to provide the system with an additional five-function manipulator arm. The Hydrolek HLK-43000 is rare in that it has no aluminum parts but is constructed entirely of plastic and stainless steel, keeping it light yet strong enough to lift 22 lbs. This manipulator arm is similar to your own in that is has a shoulder which can extend the arm in and out as well as rotate, an elbow adding another dimension of movement, a wrist which can rotate and then the hand which has a set of claws that can not only open and close but also has an attachment to snip, giving the ROV the ability to act as a rescue asset to something tangled underwater.
At the front of the vehicle, nestled in the middle of the syntactic block that is the upper segment of the ROV, is the camera that functions as the vehicle’s eyes. This is the image that the pilot uses as he or she flies the ROV through the water. The Waitt Institute’s ROV is specially configured with a slave tilt platform just below the piloting camera; this allows for a spare, higher definition camera to be mounted as well. This platform is slaved, or moves with, the platform above it. When the vehicle camera looks up, so does the camera on the slave tilt platform. There are also two lights mounted on either side of these cameras which are connected to the same slave mechanism so they follow the cameras. The Institute’s ROV is further carrying two additional high-intensity LED lights on either side of the outer frame.
The ROV carries several instruments to assist in its navigation. The navigation pod is concealed under the upper shroud of the vehicle and contains an electronic compass, solid-state gyro and depth transducer. The data these sensors collect is displayed on the pilot’s screen as depth, heading, pitch, and roll and the information is integrated into the control systems of the ROV to provide a basic kind of “Autopilot” that will keep the vehicle flying at a steady depth and heading. The Falcon is also provisioned with an Imagenex 881A sonar for navigation. The transducer sticks up from the top of the port side of the vehicle, a small red cylinder about the size of an inverted coffee cup, which is trimmed by a white plastic frame that guards it from being damaged. And finally the vehicle is configured for use with a tracking system. This larger transponder is mounted at the rear of the vehicle and is used with a mounted transducer on the ROV’s mother ship for constant tracking of the ROV in relation to the ship. Tracklink, a company from the Institute’s home city of San Diego is the manufacturer of this equipment.
That takes care of the vehicle itself but there is still a fair amount of supporting gear necessary to field an ROV. One reason the Waitt Institute chose a midsized ROV was the ability to move it from ship to ship. To this end, topside portions of this tool kit are all provisioned in armored cases and are completely mobile, able to be easily integrated into ships of opportunity or even a small motorboat if necessary. The junction box, where everything plugs in to everything else, and the surface control unit carrying the computer for all of the ROV’s systems, and the power supply that pushes 500 volts DC down to the ROV are all housed in a blue armored crate that is roughly the same size as the ROV itself (albeit a tad heavier). A computer keyboard, screen, and the controller units are the final pieces of topside equipment. The ROV can either be connected to a suite of computers on a ship that is playing tender to the ROV or you can use the manufacturer supplied monitor and keyboard when in the field or working from a small boat. The fun part, the hand control unit, is the video game aspect of piloting an ROV. There are a series of switches and variable controls for flying the vehicle, including a joystick. A similar box is used to control the 5 function manipulator arm.
The Institute has 100 meter and 300 meter soft tethers for the Falcon. The ship from which we generally operate is configured with a 10,000 foot, .68 inch armored cable and an expedition-class marine winch with a level-wind device. The Maximum Operating Depth of the Institute’s ROV is 1,000 meters and when it’s using the heavy armored cable it needs to send video and control impulses over a long distance. For that reason the Falcon has been converted to fiber optic and is thus capable of shooting high definition video effectively.