Editor on board: a day with DexROV at sea

Lisa GuilpainLisa Guilpain
  17 July 2017

The morning has a more hurried feel than missions normally would. Sea missions are weather dependent and we have had a schedule change. Instead of staying at harbour I have been informed that we are going to sea.

But there’s no hurrying the plane and I board as usual from Frankfurt – grateful for no delays. Next I’m headed out to a taxi. I’m politely hurrying through people exiting the plane, through passport control and straight out into the Marseille sunshine, having left the grey of Germany behind. To my untrained eye, the weather is perfect for a day at sea.

Today I’ll be joining various members of the DexROV consortium aboard the Comex Janus II. The ship is a working size catamaran used to conduct ROV operations for science, archaeology and undersea infrastructure.

Safely in the taxi and hopeful that I’ll make the harbour before the ship leaves, I have an opportunity to take in the marvellous Marseille views. Working on projects like this one doesn’t take me out of my office too often, so this is an exciting couple of days.

When we arrive at the harbour, the taxi driver drops me at the INNP diving school at Ponte de Rouge. It’s the closest location to the Janus II docking point and I gather my gear and run, as fast as I can, over to the ship. I’ve made it in time!

I’m impressed by the view – DexROV fully assembled with both of its manipulators attached and the various cameras now fully integrated. The Omniaccess Sailor antenna is perched on the top deck ready to connect us with Brussels again.

Greeting the crew is always the first job on the list. I am warmly received and updated on the progress of the tests. This might be my first day at sea, but the rest of the team have been on the job since the Monday before.

The relationship between communications support and scientists and engineers has to be a good one, built on trust. They have to trust me to share their achievements. These relationships are 2.5 years in the making.

I set up my gear and start to take shots of all the crew and ask them about what they have learned during testing. When the boat lurches to life I head up to mid-deck to film our trip out onto the open sea.

The Captain calls me inside. The seas will be 2.5 meters, so it’s better to be inside. I’m filming away not worried too much about the waves and just enjoying the fantastic view.

We are on our way to the DexROV test-bed. It has been lowered to the sea floor at 100msw to test the system. The Comex crew picked a sheltered area, off the side of the islands on the Marseille coastline, but the seas are still quite big today and the catamaran style vessel lurches from side to side.

Some of us, myself included, now need breaks to cope with the movements and I’m reminded just how genius the idea is to move operations for ROVs onshore. This will ensure even in the roughest conditions the ROV pilot will be able to perform their job with the utmost precision.
When we arrive I scramble back up to the mid-deck to film the DexROV being lowered into the ocean. After 2.5 years on the project and many times being the first person to receive careful explanations about project progress I understand what is happening and I am excited for the crew.

A screen inside shows the DexROV’s camera view. Two stereocameras are working together like human eyes for the perception systems. Undersea the light is a fantastic turquoise colour even though there is heavy sediment at the site.

During the testing I ask the crew more questions and find out all of the new information they have acquired. I’m slowly getting sea legs as we move around. In between there are social media posts to be made and updates on our channels.

Everyone is hard at work. This project will make many tiny steps forward in various areas to produce a system for long-range remotely piloted dexterous ROV work.

The time actually passes by quickly, and at around 17:30 we are all headed back toward the harbour. The DexROV teams have gathered useful information and are already updating and improving the system. We arrive back at harbour at around 18:00 and everyone is tired and satisfied. I’ve got a great store of images and I look forward to more from the crew who joke that they hear my voice in their head asking for more pictures every day. The atmosphere is light and friendly – no small achievement at the end of such a long and admittedly tough day.

Days like this go to show how special my job can be. Working with people who are passionate about their goals inspires you. Helping those people share their achievements is rewarding. As an EJR-Quartz team member I’m glad to offer our clients this on-site support and to help them become better communicators.

Learn more about DexROV here.