Human Occupied Vehicle

Published: 18th February 2009
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Human Occupied Submersible Hydrothermal vents were first discovered in 1977 using the human occupied submersible Alvin. After 40 years of scientific observe that led to the discovery of new life forms and helped confirm the theory of plate tectonics, the National Science basis is given that money to replace Alvin with a new, deeper-diving vehicle. The alternate vehicle will be capable of reaching more than 99 percent of the seafloor to depths of 6.5km (4 miles), 40% deeper than Alvin, which currently dives to 4.5km (2.8 miles).

There are six critical areas in which occupied submersibles far exceed the capabilities of ROVs, engagement of the operator, visibility from the vehicle, maneuverability, unobtrusiveness, reliability, and the capacity for education, outreach and recruitment.


Anyone who has dived in a submersible knows what this means. When you are in the submersible you are aware of every feeling and you are focused the whole time. To attain this same level of engagement of the human consciousness one would involve nothing short of complete virtual presence.


The difference in perception gained from looking out the aperture of a submersible with the human eye in situ opposed to that from looking at video monitors is the same as your view of this room right now opposed to what your view of the room would be if you saw it with only one eye while looking through a rectangular hole cut in the end of a black box taped to your face.

For biological studies, observation of complex biosystems is far better complete by human observers in situ, particularly for perturbation experiments. Something critical may be happening away from the field of view of ROV cameras that an observer at the site in a sub would catch with peripheral vision. The same is true for some geological applications, the most effective way to achieve geological mapping is to have a skilled person in situ looking at the structural relationships in 3-D and tracing formation contacts. In some instances shining water from gently effusive springs, which is critical for recognizing sampling sites, simply can't be seen with an ROV because of the optical interference from video transmissions.

Sampling is much easier with the parallax vision meet the expense of by the pilot looking out a view port than it is from a flat video monitor in an ROV control room. The rate of sampling is thus faster with a sub. Today's precision biological sampling requirements stipulate the visibility pay for from a view port. For many operations, including deploying large and awkward seafloor observatory equipment, the power and lift capabilities of a submersible are critical.


The chief problem ROV operators have in complex terrain is the difficulty of avoiding fouling the tether. In active hot hydrothermal regions you cannot land on up close to active vents with a tethered vehicle and do detailed work for extended periods. The tether would be in danger of destruction in the hot effluent. Problems of managing the tether for an ROV become increasingly difficult as current complexity, velocity, and as ocean depth increase. JAMSTEC's Kaiko ROV, capable of operating at depths in excess of 10,000 m was designed to enable scientific work to be performed at the Challenger Deep the deepest point in the world's deepest trench, the Mariana Trench. On its maiden voyage the ROV was deployed to the Challenger Deep, but was unable to move across the seafloor because of the difficulty in managing its tether. Essentially, it performed no better than the Trieste, which got there first with two observers.


Fish habitat studies require unobtrusive presence and the capability sometimes to be able to observe from a silent and dark vantage point. The slightest movement of an ROV is decoded to its tether and broadcast along the tether's length. A submersible can maintain station or be set to move nearly imperceptibly leisurely and silently across the seafloor. A submersible can mainly become part of a reef and details can take place inconspicuously.


Frequent recertification of occupied vehicles makes them reliable platforms. During his Midway Expedition when it came time to lower the ROV into the water Bob Ballard was heard to comment to the effect that "these things always break down." The ROV he was using did fail at first, though as soon as replacement parts arrived, Bob, as usual, thrive in his quest and found the USS Yorktown. Alvin's remarkable success record stems from the fact that basically the sub has been in use for many years and the bugs have been worked out. It is an incredibly reliable work-horse, but it could be much more versatile with the improvements envisioned by the NDSF.

Capacity for Outreach, Education, and Recruitment

The best way to communicate the excitement of scientific discovery to the people who ultimately fund our efforts, the pubic, is to get them to see our science through our eyes. If there is a reason for them to want to do so, if our eyes have appeared out the view port of a submersible, the task is much easier. Human beings will classify with a person more readily than with a robot, with an astronaut on EVA more readily even than with the popular Mars Rover. A hired youngster to become the scientists of the future is more effective if they know they can share personally in the goal of discovery.

Rosieros is an expert author, who is presently working on the siteabout

Ocean Exploration

Deep Sea Research
. He has written many articles in various topics. For more information about Underwater News.

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