Tagging the Ocean's Bottom with Robots

Deep sea robots are among the busiest smart machines today. Just when one ended its search for the black box of Flight 447 in the Atlantic, another arrived at the vicinity where another ill-fated aircraft, a Yemenia Airways jet, plunged into the depths of the Indian Ocean.

Last June, a deep sea robot named Victor 6000 was sent to scan the bottom of the Atlantic for Flight 447's black box. The robot belongs to a team whose reputation is highlighted by its Titanic expeditions. 

Victor 6000 is a ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), a tethered robot common in deepwater industries. This particular ROV partners with the manned submersible Nautile. 

The tether exchanges electrical power, video, and other data signals between the robot and the submersible. A typical ROV is equipped with video cameras and intense lights, while more sophisticated models may be outfitted with sonars, magnetometers, cutting arms, water samplers, and other tools. 

ROV's and their controlling teams are commonly tapped for missions that involve reaching places not easily accessible by humans. In the Yemenia Airways crash, for example, a French navy vessel already determined the location of the plane (some 3,900 feet below the surface) but didn't have the right equipment to get to the exact spot. 

Depending on their make, most ROV's can arrive at depths between 1,000 m to 3,000 (3,280 ft to 9,840 ft). A few, like the KAIKO 7000II (see video at the end of this article) and the Nereus (see image below) are built to reach 7000 m (22,960 ft) and 11,000 m (36,090 ft) respectively.


The original KAIKO was known for its expeditions in the Mariana Trench. Unfortunately, it disappeared in 2003 when its cable snapped during an operation in the middle of a storm. 

The first KAIKO and the Neurus are the only ROV's that have touched the deepest regions of the Earth, having reached the bottom of Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep, some 11,000 m below the surface.


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