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New Wave Media

June 8, 2022

ROV Pilots to Work from Home?

(Photo: John Gell)

(Photo: John Gell)

After working offshore for 15 years, and now with a young family at home, I have been applying a large portion of any free home life to self study and personal development to hopefully prepare myself for a transition back to an onshore career. Piloting from home wasn't quite my original intention! A long story short, being very much a learn-by-doing person, I set out to design and build my own version of an ROV hand control unit (HCU or Sticks) in a hope to pick up some necessary skills back in the electronics and coding world, but the project quickly evolved once I questioned. If I can control an ROV locally, how difficult would it be to control one over the internet? Some time later here is a brief video of my working prototype system!

Not quite offshore yet, so limited to submerged stolen cars and rubbish inspections in a local quarry, but the equipment could literally go anywhere and wouldn't be out of place on any offshore installation, vessel or even fish farm.

Remote ROV operations are nothing new to the oil and gas industry. As far as I am aware all the major operators are now running or trialing fully remote operations from their offices onshore. Made possible by recent advances in connectivity through fiber, 4G and satellite getting the required bandwidth and as low as possible latency to safely control vehicles hundreds of miles away is becoming more accessible. Add to that the emerging technology of low earth orbit satellite constellations being installed around the globe the whole offshore industry looks set for a massive shift to remote working over the coming years.

The system I have created here consists partly of my own developed hardware and code alongside some professional, readily available off the shelf connectivity hardware. Put together could prove to be an extremally cost effective but essentially robust and reliable solution for real time control/monitoring of vehicles offshore or anywhere you don't want/need people.

Just a few highlights:

  • Modernized intuitive controls, instantly familiar to experienced ROV and drone pilots alike also gamers.
  • Filtered and monitored control telemetry to adapt to any excessive latency or jitter to maintain smooth operations.
  • Local failover control.
  • Local interface for integrating other automated control systems.
  • Consistent local full HD video recording.
  • Direct from camera bitrate control to allow adjustment to available transmitting bandwidth.
  • Full control with a usable but low resolution video stream can be maintained with less than 2Mb of available upload bandwidth from the remote location.
  • Portable, has the potential to be configured and integrated to many other commercial ROV systems!
  • Secure, hardware driven SD-WAN and Cloud connectivity to multiple locations anywhere.
  • 256bit AES encrypted VPN communications.
  • Complete connectivity monitoring, latency, packet loss, packet order.
  • Options for packet error correction and additional packet redundancy for smooth video delivery.
  • Ability to bond and manage multiple WAN connections, 4G/5G, VSAT, Wired, Fiber and LEO devices to ensure unbreakable connectivity anywhere.

With this an ROV could be deployed anywhere in the world: a pilot working from home in Scotland twinned with an inspection engineer in Egypt, all being coordinated from an office in Norway.

What happens if the connection breaks or drops out for a second somewhere along the way? Ultimately, nothing! The interface will identify a drop and command the ROV into a station keep routine until connection is reestablished or control is taken locally to continue operations or recover the vehicle. There are a number recognized companies offering aftermarket ROV steering or control software packages for multiple systems (not to mention the availability of a completely free and open source solution!), integrating a DVL or other modern sensors into an older vehicle and gaining this ability is no longer a costly trip back to the OEM for modification or even replacement.

Can ROV pilots work from home? Absolutely! Should they? Hmmm... I'm open to discussion. Remote operations are 100% going to be part of all offshore activities moving on, although I'd imagine conducted and managed mainly from a smart office building instead. While this method may not suit every type of ROV operation, there is a multitude of use cases and benefits to this technology.

This "side project" for myself is certainly ongoing and far from finished, and the learning journey continues. I think a good testament to what you can achieve with an hour or so a day in front of the right teacher for whatever skill you require next. I started again here.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn and has been republished with the author's permission.

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