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Sam Macdonald, President, Deep Trekker
Reprinted with permission from the Summer issue of Influents

Regardless of industry, the consistent inspection of  Regardless of industry, the consistent inspection of underwater infrastructure is paramount to safe and successful operations.

Consistent monitoring is necessary to stay on top of the normal wear and tear of day-to-day operations. Regular inspection also allows operators to catch minor issues before they become big problems, which makes inspection and subsequent maintenance of facilities an integral part of infrastructure management programs. In order to provide consistent quality output while reducing inspection and maintenance costs, the monitoring and assessment of relevant new technologies and techniques are imperative. Aging infrastructure is a reality for the majority of cities around the world. Many municipal waterways, dams, and bridges were built 50 to 100 years ago, and these systems are showing their age. It is imperative that repairs, maintenance, and ongoing development are completed to fight against water main breaks, contaminations, and degradation; the cost of which is massive, and the long-term effects devastating. Prioritizing maintenance and repairs saves time and money in the long run. Water main breaks or blocks, degradation, and contamination issues result in massive financial losses, not to mention the long-term effects on the surrounding neighbourhoods. Routine inspections on infrastructure including sewage lines, water tanks, and bridges are imperative for the prevention of these costly issues. The current pandemic has added an extra layer of difficulty to these necessary inspections. Limited personnel and social distancing have made operations complicated. The coordination and safety of inspection teams, such as divers, has become more challenging but also more crucial during the pandemic.  As submersible technologies continue to advance, new and better tools for consistent inspection are coming down the pipeline. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) provide organizations with accurate and convenient tools to safely conduct inspections – especially during a pandemic.  

 What are ROVs?  ROVs are unoccupied, highly maneuverable vehicles. Submersible ROVs are simply ROVs that are able to investigate ocean depths or submerged infrastructure while being operated by someone on land or on a vessel. These ROVs allow pilots to take photo and video footage to investigate, inspect and explore underwater. More advanced ROVs also offer sophisticated add-ons including sonar imaging, ultra-short baseline positioning systems and thickness gauges to enhance inspection abilities.  ROVs can range greatly in both size and price. Submersible or underwater ROVs are used in a variety of industries including military, search and rescue, ocean science, aquaculture, energy including oil and gas, shipping, infrastructure and recreational diving among others. 

 Limiting Personnel Limiting contact is imperative for stopping the transmission of the coronavirus. Typical inspections require several employees to ensure safety and effectiveness. Divers, in particular, require several people on site to monitor the dive and perhaps even more employees on hand to shut down systems if necessary.  An ROV can be safely operated by one to two people, allowing for safe pandemic procedures. Lightweight and easy to transport, many battery-operated ROVs can be moved to different locations by one person. Using the handheld controller, a single person can conduct entire inspections by themselves ensuring safety and social distancing.  
 Straightforward Data Sharing  Information obtained from an ROV can also be easily organized and shared. During a pandemic, many employees are working remotely, making quick, convenient, and accurate data sharing imperative.  The process for sharing ROV data is straightforward. Once underwater work is complete, ROV operators simply download the data to their computer to develop the dive report, noting equipment condition, and point to any irregularities.  

 Maximize Limited Budgets Budgets can be tight at any time but particularly during a global pandemic. Optimizing budgets is crucial for successful operation. With an ROV on hand, the number of times dive teams need to be hired or systems need to be shut down or drained is significantly reduced, allowing teams to save money in the long term.  Teams can proactively manage their repairs and maintenance by conducting regular ROV inspections to determine optimal cleaning and repair schedules. Scheduling can be particularly useful during pandemic times as the amount of personnel can be appropriately limited and procedures can be safely altered to ensure social distancing. Having systems running at optimal condition through consistent ROV inspection ensures overall efficiency and effectiveness to make the most out of budgets in challenging times.

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