How Do We Explore Collection: Introduction to Underwater Robots. Video courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.
Introduction to Underwater Robots Lessons
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.