by Tom Carroll
The name ‘Remotely Operated Vehicles’ can really apply to any
vehicle that is controlled from a
distance, which can include law
enforcement robots, military robots,
aerial vehicles, combat robots, and
even remotely-controlled boats and
planes. Since the 1950s and 1960s
when serious remotely-controlled
underwater vehicles began to make
the news, ‘ROV’ began to mean
only those robotic vehicles that
operated under water. Rather than
going into detail about different
control systems and robotic
appendages on the many types of
ROVs, I’d like to highlight a few
different types of specialized underwater vehicles that have made worldwide headlines and what made them
stand out from all the others in this
unforgivable and harsh environment.
ROVs began to appear
when scientists, Navy personnel, and others wanted to
see beneath the waves with
a remote TV camera system.
Later, these same people
wanted a bit more: to
manipulate what they saw
and retrieve samples. Thus,
the birth of the ROV.
diving instructor, marine
explorer, and author of the
1955 book Free Diving,
Dimitri Rebikoff is credited
with building the first underwater scooter — the ‘Torpille’
— for divers in 1952. In
1953, this underwater diver’s
assistant evolved into the first modern
tethered ROV called the Poodle.
Earlier, Rebikoff was credited with
developing the first portable
photographer’s electronic flash in
1947, and also an underwater version.
He later moved to the US and was a
prominent figure in oceanographic
instrumentation for many years before
passing away in 1997.
Dimitri’s work is a good
illustration of why ROVs came about.
Though an avid diver, he realized that
as a photographer the ability to
remotely control a TV and film camera
below the water’s surface would
open up this unseen world to many
people. Dimitri and his famous fellow
countryman, Jacques Cousteau,
became famous the world over for
their contributions to underwater
sciences and bringing views of the
underwater world to the average
The CURV ROV
Becomes a Workhorse
for the Navy
FIGURE 1. CURV.
Using remote underwater vehicles
for research and photography is vital
for universities and some government
agencies, but their use for military
purposes was a natural for the U S
Navy. Visual inspection of underwater
structures and vessels is important but
the Navy saw an even more critical
use in the recovery of torpedoes.
The Navy’s CURV or Cable-controlled Undersea Recovery Vehicle
shown in Figure 1 was developed in
the early 1960s by the former
Pasadena Annex of the Naval
Ordnance Test Station in San
Diego. The first tests were
off the coast of California at
San Clemente Island — a
naval weapon test area.
Torpedoes, as well as ship
missiles, mines, and other
types of shells covered the
sea bottom off San
Clemente Island and the
CURV was adept at safely
retrieving these items at
depths up to 2,000 feet.
CURV made world headlines
in 1966 when it recovered a
lost H bomb off the Spanish
coast that was lost when a
B- 52 bomber crashed.
In 1968, the Naval
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