University of South Florida


USF and Florida Institute of Oceanography’s new remotely operated vehicle to advance deep-sea exploration and education

By Matthew Cimitile, University Communications and Marketing

Researchers studying the deep sea have access to a powerful new tool with the acquisition of a sophisticated, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) by the University of South Florida and Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO).

Named Taurus, the ROV can reach depths of up to 2.5 miles, allowing for exploration of some of the most remote areas of the ocean and the potential discovery of new species. The vehicle can also capture and livestream 4k imagery, expanding educational opportunities and appreciation for the underwater environment.

USF, the host institution of FIO, is the only university in the continental United States to own an ROV with such advanced capabilities, positioning it at the forefront of oceanographic research. 

“The addition of ROV Taurus will build upon the impactful work taking place at the Florida Institute of Oceanography and strengthen the University of South Florida’s position as a global leader in oceanographic sciences,” said USF President Rhea Law. “This cutting-edge technology will create additional opportunities for our students to participate in immersive learning experiences and allow us to expand our research capabilities as we help solve critical challenges affecting our environment.”

The vehicle, designed and built by Pelagic Research Services (PRS), will be housed aboard the Research Vessel Western Flyer, a 117-foot twin-hulled ship that was granted to USF and FIO last year. Western Flyer is the most technologically advanced vessel in the FIO fleet and offers interdisciplinary research expeditions in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Caribbean waters as well as transformative opportunities for students to explore the field of ocean science. 

The ROV Taurus is envisioned to be used in several different ways aboard the vessel, from conducting new research in deep-sea environments to programs that train the next generation of marine scientists to public education initiatives.

  •  The ROV Taurus is a sophisticated, remotely operated vehicle that can reach ocean depths of up to 2.5 miles

  • FIO Chief Scientist Nicole Raineault speaks with reporters during a media availability event demonstrating the new ROV

  • The ROV Taurus has the capability to capture and livestream imagery of the deep-sea environment

  • The ROV is lifted up by a crane and positioned over the moon pool aboard the Research Vessel Western Flyer

  • The ROV Taurus is housed aboard the Research Vessel Western Flyer, a 117-foot twin-hulled ship that was granted to USF and FIO last year

“ROV Taurus will significantly advance our understanding of deep-sea environments that are relevant to Florida’s and the nation’s blue economy,” said Monty Graham, director of FIO. “The ability to livestream underwater missions and provide hands-on learning opportunities for students will foster the next generation of marine scientists, technologists and maritime professionals. Taurus will also have a tremendously positive impact on workforce development.”

On its first scientific mission in late July, the ROV will be used by FIO’s Peerside program, which aims to broaden access and ongoing involvement among students with the ocean. Peerside is a year-round career development program that teaches students about technology and careers in ocean science and includes a ROV-focused cruise as well as the study of ROV dives from shore.

During such scientific cruises, the ROV’s advanced imaging and the Western Flyer’s high-speed internet capabilities can livestream footage of underwater missions directly into classrooms and be incorporated into future lectures, school programs and community events.

“While ROV livestreaming has proven effective as an outreach and education tool, we will also use these technologies to maximize research potential. Collaborative science will utilize livestreaming of ROV video, data and real-time communications between researchers on ship and shore to make the ocean more accessible to more people than the vessel can accommodate,” said Nicole Raineault, FIO’s chief scientist. 

PRS specially designed the ROV to be equipped with a variety of cutting-edge scientific technology, including manipulator arms that can interact with the underwater environment. It also has sample and sediment collection capabilities that allows researchers to gather physical samples from the ocean floor. 

ROVs such as Taurus have led to exciting discoveries in the deep-sea environment. These include footage of never-before-identified species, hydrothermal vent systems, deep-sea coral reefs, underwater canyons and shipwrecks. ROVs have also played a crucial role in documenting the extent of pollution and litter in marine environments, raising awareness on how human activities affect even the depths of the ocean.       

The acquisition and deployment of this new ROV leverages PRS’ multi-disciplinary expedition expertise. Founded in 2013, PRS brings state-of-the-art, subsea research tools, expedition planning and execution to the ocean community on a global basis. In 2023, PRS was tasked with the rescue and recovery of OceanGate’s Titan submersible, discovering the debris from the Titan on the sea floor using the Odysseus 6K ROV, which the Taurus design is based on.

“The new 4K ROV system opens up opportunities for students and researchers to investigate areas beyond scuba depth by providing a highly capable platform for sensors, tools and sample collection, piloted by a professional team, to maximize research time,” says Edward Cassano, CEO of Pelagic Research Services and operator of the ROV. “Taurus’ design lends itself to both scientific research and the development and testing of new technologies – allowing researchers to work with engineers to improve deep-sea research methods.”

The funding for the construction and operation of Taurus was provided by the Office of Naval Research.

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