MercoPress, a news agency based in Uruguay, reports that German engineers are using an aquatic robot able to work 6,000 meters below sea level. This remotely operated vehicle (ROV), dubbed Kiel-6000, is operated by the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences from the University of Kiel. The robot weighs 3.5 tons on the ground and it is 3.5 meters long and 1.9 meter wide, with a height of 2.4 meters. With its video cameras, it can transmit images to a mother vessel via a 6.5 kilometer-long fiber glass cable. According to the project leader, Kiel-6000 'will have access to 95% of the entire world’s sea beds.' But read more...
Before going further, let's look at some pictures of Kiel-6000. The picture above shows the ROV Kiel-6000 diving from research vessel ALKOR operated by the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences from the University of Kiel (IFM-GEOMAR). Here is a link to a much larger version of this photo from A. Villwock, IFM-GEOMAR.
And here is the ROV Kiel-6000 on board of the French Research Vessel L'Atalante. (Credit: IFM-GEOMAR) Here is a link to a slightly larger version of this picture.
As said Colin Devey, the project leader, "'For us it's the opening of whole new dimension, who added 'that the robot is capable of taking water samples, sediments and rocks from the bottom sea using the two extensible arms with which it has been equipped.'"
This underwater robot will also be used for environmental research. "ROV Kiel-6000 will be used to advance with carbon dioxide research at the bottom of the sea. Under the motto 'CO2 inside, methane outside,' the project plans to unveil the sedimentation process which could lead to the solidification of carbon dioxide in contact with methane gas hydrates, which remain at frozen condition below the sea mud. By storing CO2, methane is liberated and could be used as an alternative energy source given the growing descent of proven reserves of fossil fuels, added Peter Herzig," director of IFM-GEOMAR.
The Kiel-6000 aquatic robot was tested for the first time in July 2007 on a joined German-New Zealand-US SONNE cruise. One of the main goals of this cruise was to conduct sea trials of the IFM-GEOMAR KIEL-6000 remotely operated vehicle at depths of 6,000 meters near the Kermadec deep-sea trench.
But how do you test such a robot? Colin Devey explains it in an article on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website. "Buying a complex underwater vehicle is not like buying something at the store (say a computer) taking it home, switching it on and expecting it to work. The ROV alone consists of propellers, hydraulic pumps and lots of cameras, lights and electronics, as well as two arms, all of which need to work at enormous pressures surrounded by seawater. Added to that we have a winch holding almost 4 miles of cable, and a whole 20 foot van crammed with electronics to control the vehicle. All in all a lot of equipment which needs to be thoroughly tested before we can use it for science."
So what did they do? "After about a week spent building the whole system up and testing it on deck, we sent it down to the seafloor on a total of three, 7-hour long dives. During the dives, two pilots are always in the control van, responsible for steering the vehicle and the grab arms and also navigating the vehicle and ensuring that it is still functioning properly (the ROV runs on a 4000 volt power supply – if any water gets into the electronics at that sort of voltage we need to shut them down quickly or we will fry lots of expensive gear, so there are leak detectors throughout the vehicle)."
After all these tests, the Kiel-6000 has been certified by Germanischer Lloyd and you can even see it in a video on YouTube (1 minute and 54 seconds).
Sources: MercoPress news agency, Uruguay, June 16, 2008; and various websites
You'll find related stories by following the links below.