Mini Robot Subs Help Guide Concordia Salvage

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A fleet of yellow, stingray-shaped robot submarines will monitor the most delicate and complex operation in the Costa Concordia refloating -- raising the wrecked cruise liner by another 40 feet and towing it away.

Measuring only 12 inches wide and weighing just 13 pounds, the VideoRay Pro 4 remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) play a crucial role in the largest maritime salvage operation ever. They're used in every underwater activity around the stricken ship.

Off the coast of North Carolina, marine archaeologists survey three sunken German U-Boats.
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Over the past two and half years, these “swimming cameras” have recorded 45,000 hours of video footage, making this the most intensive use of underwater ROVs in the history of salvage.

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“On this job our ROVs worked 24 hours a day. There were more hours logged on this project than any other VideoRay job ever,” Scott Bentley, VideoRay's president, told Discovery News.

The company, located in Pottstown, Penn., is the largest producer of ROVs in the world. Among various missions, their miniature ROVs carried under-ice investigation in Antarctica and Cenote exploration in the Yucatan for Mayan artifacts.

They also penetrated for the first time the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, and explored the RMS Lusitania off the Irish coast, capturing images unseen since the ship’s sinking in 1917.

In Giglio, VideoRays have surveyed and inspected the entire 950-foot-long and 115-foot-wide Concordia, playing a major role from the initial search for the victims through the complex final stage which is leading to the wreck removal from the Tuscan island.

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“VideoRay ROVs were used to keep divers safer by observing their work and going into confined spaces so that divers didn’t have to,” Bentley said.

The yellow submarine robots  are small enough to penetrate areas of shipwrecks inaccessible to larger ROVs. They can be used in extreme situations such as rough seas, strong currents up to 4 knots, and can sustain temperatures from 32 to 122 degrees F for hours, while diving down to 1,000 feet.

Ultra-portable and completely computer driven, the tethered units feature two thrusters in the back which turn and push them forward, while on the top, a propeller allows the robot submarines to go up and down. The front is equipped with two powerful LED lights and a high-resolution camera to transmit underwater images.