ROV Adventures

Its finally time for robots

So a few people have assumed my time in South Africa is all exciting adventures. Its definitely exciting at times but I’m living in a small town with limited money so the weekends can be somewhat quiet. This weekend however was eventful as me and two other field specialists from Oceans decided to go and start getting some ROV piloting practice.

The ROV (essentially an underwater drone) is going to be used by Oceans Research to document the fish population of a near shore reef. The goal is to see how an ROV compares to other methods of data collection for similar projects. The first step was getting good at piloting.


So on Saturday afternoon, Jesse, Mitch and me gathered up our equipment.

Everything a team of amateur ROV pilots need

We headed down to a small public access pier near the main harbor in Mossel Bay and got to diving. Now I figured, being so close to a heavily used boat slipway we wouldn’t see much. We’d genuinely planned it as a chance to get more piloting practice for some upcoming research. Boy were we wrong! we found a small reef and schools of fish all around! Some members of the general public came by curious about what we were doing so we enjoyed a bit of impromptu science communication about the reefs in the area. The kids especially were really fascinated.

There were heaps of fish for us to see and it proved to be a really fun first dive. I’d done some practice dives back home in a harbor. But it was a sandy area with little to see. This dive really opened my eyes to whats possible with this technology. I was really excited!


Mitch, the ROV, Jesse and Mossel Bay at Sunset


Hoping for a repeat performance of Saturdays success we decided to head on Sunday as well. This time we were deploying at a similar site nearby to the first  at the site of a nearshore reef that we hoped to study with the ROV. Today was just a test. But it quickly turned into a bit of a misadventure.

We decided to test out a few new toys for the ROV. In hindsight we were maybe jumping the gun just a little bit. The first thing we tested was a special type of GoPro mount. The mount attached to the bottom of the ROV and allowed the GoPro to face straight down. This would allow us to shoot detailed footage of the seafloor which could in theory be turned into a 3D map of the seafloor.

So we deployed the ROV and headed out. We started alright, but the water was pretty choppy and we banged into a few rocks. When we got further out, we charged out into calmer water, we couldn’t find the reef which was pretty frustrating to say the least. So we figured we’d cut our losses, detach the GoPro attachment and just practice piloting a bit more.

SO I piloted the ROV back into the shore, Jesse picked it up and I’ve immediately said “Oh s***!” when I saw that GoPro was gone.  The GoPro mount I’d 3D printed had snapped during one of those collisions with the rocks. Jesse was about to go jump in to try find it but I had a better idea.

I quickly pointed out that the second ROV attachment I’d prepared to test was a grabber claw. Here is a video of what I’m talking about.

Out of that, a rescue plan was born. Admittedly, it was a wildly optimistic plan: Use an untested grabber claw to search somewhat choppy water for a small camera we hope to grab in rapidly fading sunlight with an ROV we just barely knew how to pilot.

But we’re an optimistic bunch of , and much to our surprise we found the Camera!

And were we successful?

Sadly no, while we were able to find the GoPro (much to our surprise). The water was too choppy for the ROV to make an approach and grab it. It is close to shore so it is retrievable. Yesterday one of the Jesse tried to go for a swim to retrieve it. The visibility didn’t allow it. Another attempt will happen today, cross your fingers for me!








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