Please note: You are viewing the unstyled version of this website. Either your browser does not support CSS (cascading style sheets) or it has been disabled. Skip navigation.

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

REMUS proves its mettle in war and peace

   Print  PDF  Change text to small (default) Change text to medium Change text to large

REMUS Tunnel Inspection Vehicle

Enlarge Image

The REMUS Tunnel Inspection Vehicle is tested in a tank at McLane Research months before being sent to New York for the official inspection. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Workers position a launch frame with the Tunnel Inspection Vehicle

Enlarge Image

Workers position a launch frame with the Tunnel Inspection Vehicle over a 1,000-foot access shaft before lowering it into the New York aqueduct system. (Courtesy of New York City Department of Environmental Protection)

Ben Allen views test images

Enlarge Image

Ben Allen views test images from five cameras mounted on a REMUS vehicle that was specially built for inspection of a 60-year-old water tunnel. (Photo courtesy of Ben Allen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

REMUS team members

Enlarge Image

REMUS team members hold the Tunnel Inspection Vehicle after it's successful survey on June 6. From left: Amy Kukulya, Rob Goldsborough, Chris von Alt, Roger Stokey, Tom Austin, Ned Forrester and Ben Allen. Greg Packard is not pictured. (Photo courtesy of Ben Allen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Related Links


» New York City Department of Environmental Protection

» WHOI Oceanographic Systems Laboratory
More about REMUS vehicles from the lab that designs them.

By Mike Carlowicz

Source: Woods Hole Current

They look like torpedoes--long and sleek and sturdy. But they do not bring harm; in fact, they sometimes help prevent it.

Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS (REMUS) are low-cost, programmable, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) designed and operated by Chris von Alt, Ben Allen, and colleagues in the WHOI Oceanographic Systems Laboratory. They were conceived for monitoring coastal environments, mapping shallow seafloors, and conducting multiple-vehicle surveys. But in the past year, REMUS vehicles have been adopted for more immediate public service.

In March and April of 2003, the US Navy enlisted several REMUS vehicles to detect mines in the Persian Gulf harbor of Umm Qasr during Operation Iraqi Freedom. While a few Navy-trained dolphins starred in front-page headlines, the REMUS vehicles quietly tracked back and forth through the harbor, making detailed sonar maps of the likely locations of mines. Navy officials told the media that they preferred using the AUVs because each REMUS could do the work of 12 to 16 human divers, and they were "undeterred by cold temperatures, murky water, sharks, or hunger."

In June 2003, a custom-designed REMUS swam several hundred feet below the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River to inspect a 45-mile section of the Delaware Aqueduct. It was the culmination of a three-year journey for the REMUS team. As the largest and most crucial link in New York City’s upstate water transportation system, the Delaware Aqueduct carries as much as 900 million gallons of water daily. For a decade, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been monitoring leaks in the aqueduct’s Rondout-West Branch Tunnel, which have allowed 10 to 36 million gallons of water to escape each day. Yet inspectors could not simply shut off the water and walk inside for a visual inspection because the water pressure in the tunnel-about 240 pounds per square inch-might be the only thing that keeps the aqueduct from collapsing.

In 2000, the DEP issued a call for proposals to develop an untethered, unmanned vehicle that could inspect and photograph the 13.5-foot wide tunnel while the water kept flowing. The REMUS team saw it as an unprecedented challenge, and bid for the contract. They won.

Over the next three years, the team designed and extensively tested an oversized, customized version of REMUS, known as the Tunnel Inspection Vehicle. The TIV was equipped with five digital cameras angled for 360° imaging, as well as pressure sensors, hydrophones, and navigational gear.

On June 6, 2003, the TIV completed the 15-hour survey, emerging from the aqueduct with 160,000 digital photographs and 600 gigabytes of data that fills 150 DVDs. Engineers will now analyze the TIV data to determine the nature and location of the leaks, said DEP Commissioner Christopher Ward.

REMUS was invented and continues to be developed at WHOI, and is now manufactured by Hydroid Inc. of East Falmouth, MA. The Naval Sea Systems Command recently contracted with Hydroid for $30 million of REMUS technology. Several other municipalities with water issues are closely watching the results of the NY survey, with an eye toward perhaps acquiring a TIV of their own.

Originally published: July 1, 2003

Last updated: June 29, 2016

whoi logo

Copyright ©2007 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, All Rights Reserved, Privacy Policy.
Problems or questions about the site, please contact