Thursday, October 05, 2006

Aussie Rescue Bots

[Crossposted from Unconsidered Trifles] The Sub Report has linked to an interesting story about how the Australians are implementing robots for sub rescues:
The navy has moved to avoid a Kursk-style submarine disaster by acquiring an underwater robot to rescue stricken sailors trapped on the seabed.

The decision follows a damning report last year, revealed in The Australian, which found the navy's submarine rescue strategy was in disarray, with faulty and obsolete equipment and poor training creating "intolerable" risks to sailors stranded under the ocean.

This comes more than three years after the navy came within 20 seconds of losing the Collins-class submarine HMAS Dechaineux and its 55 crew in a catastrophic onboard flood under the Indian Ocean.

The new robot will reduce the chances of the navy having a similar disaster to that of the doomed Russian submarine, the Kursk, whose crew died trapped in their vessel on the seabed before a rescue crew could reach them in August 2000.

Of the 118 Russian sailors who lost their lives in the tragedy, those not killed in an initial explosion suffocated when the submarine ran out of air.

When I saw the headline and read the story up to this point, I was highly skeptical. But if you read on, it seems the headline about "rescue" is a tad misleading. It seems, rather, that the robot would provide vital air supplies, etc. to a trapped crew--buying critical time until other means could be devised for their eventual rescue:

The ROV's role is to help keep the submariners alive until the navy's larger rescue vehicle, the Remora, can be deployed.

The 16.5-tonne Remora attaches to the sunken sub and allows six survivors at a time to be brought to the surface.

But it could take days for Remora to be loaded on to a ship and transported to the scene of an accident - a period that could be critical for the survival of a crew.

Therefore the navy wants a smaller unit it can despatch more quickly.

"The aim of the ROV is to deliver additional emergency life-support stores, clear debris from and establish communications with a stricken submarine" ahead of the arrival of the Remora, a defence spokesman said yesterday.

"While submarines carry emergency life-saving stores, the ability to deliver additional stores ahead of deploying Remora is a prudent contingency for an unpredictable event such as adverse weather that might delay commencement of the rescue."

The navy's six Collins-class submarines carry five days worth of emergency reserves on top of their regular stores.
Pretty cool. Yet at the risk of sounding like a pessimist, there are still no guarantees that it would help. If the submarine sank in such a way that didn't allow for emergency egress, the ROV might only be prolonging the inevitable. What an awful ethical dilemma for Navy leaders in such a situation--i.e., do you deploy the ROV or not? At what point do you remove it?

Still, cool new technologies are afoot for our guys--and that's a great thing.


Post a Comment

<< Home