How Do We Explore Collection: Introduction to Underwater Robots

Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Download larger version (mp4, 84.9 MB).




Site characterization is the final step in the Okeanos Explorer strategy for exploring Earth’s deep ocean. And this step is where things can get really exciting, because site characterization involves taking a close look at suspected anomalies using the ship’s underwater robots. For the Okeanos Explorer’s maiden voyage into Indonesian waters, a remotely operated vehicle named Little Hercules was borrowed from Dr. Robert Ballard’s Institute for Exploration at the University of Rhode Island. Little Hercules was originally designed to obtain high quality video imagery to support scientific research and ocean exploration, and received a major overhaul before coming aboard the Okeanos Explorer. You can find more details about Little Herc in our underwater robots lessons.

When we began developing lessons for the Underwater Robots inquiry topic, we realized that this topic can include a LOT of subject matter. Obviously, the robots themselves can be a focus, since these usually combine a variety of technologies and offer almost unlimited opportunities for hands‐on activities. On the other hand, since video imagery is a key part of site characterization and produces some very interesting products, working with these images and learning how video is used for research and exploration is another possible focus. And once we start looking at those images, we see a very diverse cross‐section of the animal kingdom that opens the door to inquiries about many different species, as well as about the deepwater ecosystems in which they live.

Our lessons for the Underwater Robots inquiry topic touch on each of these focus areas. Once again, we encourage you to have a look at all of these lessons, regardless of the specified grade levels. And we also encourage you to explore and enjoy the spectacular videos and images captured by Little Hercules and the ROV team aboard the Okeanos Explorer. More than 3,000 still images were collected during the INDEXSATAL expedition, and these offer an excellent opportunity to engage students In many different inquiries.

Our lesson “Invent A Robot!”, targeted toward grades 5 and 6, focuses on the process of engineering design, which underlies all of the technologies aboard Okeanos Explorer; and indeed most of the technologies in our world today. Students are introduced to a simple hydraulic actuator, then are challenged to design and test a system using this kind of actuator for a robotic arm. In addition to technology and engineering content, this lesson also connects with simple machines and other physical science topics that are normally included at this grade level.

“What Little Herc Saw” is our lesson for grades 7 and 8, and is based on video products from the INDEX‐SATAL expedition. Students analyze a series of still images captured from this video, and get a hands‐on experience with some of the challenges facing scientists who try to identify the strange organisms that appear as Little Hercules travels just above the deep ocean floor.

Our lesson for grades 9 through 12 is titled “Through Robot Eyes,” and introduces students to some other tools for analyzing video images. Like our lessons for multibeam and CTD technologies, once students are familiar with these tools, they can be used for many other kinds of inquiries including those based on future Okeanos Explorer expeditions.