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This series is brought to you in part by Aerobotika - UAV training and Consulting

Water Today - Most people think that drones are a very James Bond type of thing. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do with your ROVs?

Tamburri - Our ROV has been customized and built in our facility to be a world-class  scientific instrument on the sea floor  So we help scientists turn the seafloor into their laboratory, or try to help them do that.

Water Today - When scientists come to you, they have very specific functions to ask of you. Can you tell me a little bit about the range of tools on your ROV?

Tamburri - Well it’s quite the range...we go from sampling water bacteria, small little things like arthropods to recovering huge chimneys or black smoker volcanic rocks that we have to cut off with chain saws. So anything from sucking or slurping water into samplers to bringing down a chain saw and choking (like you would on a log) a chimney and bringing that whole structure up to the surface. Actually that chimney is now sitting in the museum of Natural History in New York. We did that back in; I think it was ‘98. So we've done everything from sampling the smallest things to recovering large geological structures. And we use everything from passive devices like a scoop or a slurp sampler to integrating very complicated electrical or even fibre optic instruments into the ROBOS ROV. So sometimes we use it as the tool and sometimes we use it as a conduit for the scientific tool that's been designed to do the work.

Water Today - Can you tell me a little bit about this ocean networks that you’ve worked on?

Tamburri - We were implemental in both the Canadian cabled observatory and the American cabled observatory. Our role was to get their secondary infrastructure into the water. The primary infrastructure is typically a transoceanic  telecom cable that goes up to 400 miles off shore to a large structure typically called a node, where it's terminated. From that node you run smaller cables to your tech sites. Basically, we were involved in everything from the node out; either laying the cable on the seafloor or putting down what we call scientific instrument platforms near the study sites and deploying the instruments from that instrument platform. There are three stages, the end point where you are doing your sampling, the instrument platform, the connection of the instrument platform back to what we call primary nodes.

Water Today - What does a cabled ocean observatory do?

Tamburri - The primary reason for doing a cabled observatory is to enable 24/7 ocean monitoring and sampling. In the past scientists were only able to go out at certain times of the year and for a certain period of time, with a battery- deployed sampling device and in the window of time provided by on-site work. What the cabled observatory allows is 24/7 monitoring and sampling of that environment from the beach, from their office or their institution. Taking a 300 foot ship, an ROV and all the instruments out to sea is a very large undertaking; a professor has to take 4 to 6 weeks of his time to come out to the ship and then go out into his program. The idea with the cabled observatories is that they can now put their instruments at the end of the cable at their site and be able to acquire their data 24/7, year round and from the comfort of their office.

Water Today - Can you sort of tell me a bit about the range of technologies on ROVs.

Tamburri - Typically the ROV industry has been driven by oil and gas, supporting drill rigs all over the world. There are several large manufacturers of remotely operating vehicles, cabled to the surface, and they tend to be your eyes and hands in 3,4 or 5,000 thousand meters of water.  That's basically turning valves, making connections, thing like that.

Water Today - 5000 meters deep?.

Tamburri - Yes, our ROV is rated to 5000 metres. It was originally made in 1986 and at that time I believe there might have been only half a dozen in the world. And now that number is far higher. The deeper the oil and gas industry goes, the deeper the rating on the remotely operated vehicles goes. So that is the driving factor. There are also AUVs, autonomous under water vehicles, which are not tethered. Some of these are quite simple and basically just glide on ocean currents and upload their data to a satellite, others are very complicated AUVs which you can actually control them from the beach with an acoustic control system.

Water Today - So you use sound waves to reach the remote unit, and in the sound wave there is I guess information for the vehicle to do whatever it is you are doing with it. Is that how it would work.

Tamburri - Right it's acoustic. They also found that pulsating blue light is a good carrier for high bandwidth data.

Water Today - Oh is that right, I didn't know that at all.

Tamburri - Yes but it's a close proximity sensor; you can't be kilometres away from the node or the port. The nice thing about the AUV's and the cabled observatories is that you can have one of these controllers on the instrument platforms so that your AUV can autonomously run between the platforms, for kilometres of distance. When it gets close to the sampling site, you can then take control of it with a pilot from the beach. This allows you to do your fine manipulation or your sampling or anything like that around that study site.
This is where we would like to take the next generation of cabled observatories; to have underwater docking stations for AUVs to recharge their batteries and maybe upload significant amounts of data instead of transferring it through the water. You can transfer by usb connector. And then use a high speed either acoustic or optical connection to upload all the data.

Water Today - That's just wild, and this is next generation?

Tamburri - Yes, right now it’s in the development stage. Currently, and AUV is used to do what we call mowing the lawn which is basically surveying the seafloor autonomously. You give it a pre-set area to inspect, say 20 metres off the seafloor, and spaced five metres apart, and it just goes and goes and goes, until either the batteries run out or it has finished its mission. And then it pops up to the surface. You recover the AUV and download all that data.
Water Today When you talk to people about what you do, what is their reaction?

Tamburri -  I would say that people are intrigued and amazed at what we do, at the depths and pressures that we do them.

Water Today - How would a young person get into the field?

Tamburri - There are ROV training schools in the states and I think there might be one in the East Coast of Canada too. I'm not quite sure. But you do learn this and then typically, your first job would be probably in the oil and gas industry or maybe telecom. But that would probably be where you would get in the door.

Water Today - Can you tell me how much; without giving away state secrets, how much is a unit like what you use on a daily basis, how much is this thing?

Tamburri - Well if you have the entire system; so everything that it takes to make it work plus spares, you are probably looking at 6 to 7 million dollars Canadian.

Water Today - That's a lot of money. Have you ever lost one of these things?

Tamburri - Well actually we did lose one, yes back in the 90's. I wasn't on that trip but we lost a ROPOS it must have been in ‘96 I think, that was never found. There was an eruption out here off the west coast, an underwater eruption, and...

Water Today - A volcano?

Tamburri - Yes, an underwater erupting volcano went off and a scientist wanted us to go out, and I think the time period was October, and take a look at the fresh flow. And it can be ok at that time of year out here, but you can also get big storms. And so they ran into some really rough weather and never recovered the ROV.

Water Today - Okay I have to ask the obvious question, has anyone asked you to go to the Titanic?

Tamburri - I don't think as a group they've asked us to go to titanic, but personally I’ve been asked a couple times to go, years ago.

Water Today - And did you go?

Tamburri - No I didn't, I was committed to the other work unfortunately.

Water Today - Have you ever seen things that normally people would never see, or something that was so weird it gave you pause?

Tamburri - I've been doing this a long time, I've seen great whites, I've seen 6 foot Humboldt squid, I've seen Spanish galleons. I've seen sail boats. Yeah I've been around tons of different types of expeditions with ROV's but I haven't seen anything really unexpected.

Water Today - If you are talking to someone's son or daughter and they asked you if this is a growth industry in Canada, what do you say Keith?

Tamburri - I say yes, and I say that Canada is - I don’t want to say was - the leader in these deep ocean technologies. One of the first ROV manufacturing companies in the world came out of Port Moody, British Columbia, Canada. And so there is a history here. I was fortunate to work for them when I was young, and they’re still around. There are also a couple larger Canadian companies involved with offshore work. Whether you could stay in Canada and keep doing it, I'm not going to say. But going around the world and getting a bunch of different experiences is not a bad thing either.

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