Tito Collasius was working as a dishwasher aboard the research ship Knorr in 1985, when the team, using cameras mounted on underwater vehicles, made a mind-blowing discovery. "I came to the [Woods Hole] Oceanic [Institution] as a mess attendant and the first cruise I ever made was finding the RMS Titanic," Collasius says. "I was at the right place at the right time. It knocked my socks off. I vowed that I would go do that one day."
Collasius made good on his word. Today he pilots an underwater remote-operated vehicle, or ROV, for the Oceanic, a nonprofit marine research group based in Massachusetts.
His work sounds a little like science fiction: Men on ships flicking joysticks that control robots the size of trucks as they rove miles beneath the sea in near-freezing depths no man could hope to reach, sophisticated tools and cameras whirring and snapping at the ends of long hydraulic arms.
But ever since the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill erupted in April, robots much like these have played a vital role in each successive effort BP has made to staunch the spill pouring forth from its sunken Deepwater Horizon rig. It was powerful ROVs equipped with a diamond tipped saw and, eventually, a pair of enormous shears, which cut a crushed riser pipe this week as step one in the latest attempt to cap the leak.
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