For decades now, the world's top oil and energy companies have made heavy use of remotely operated vehicles capable of withstanding the pressures of the oceans' depths. A longstanding cornerstone of the industry's exploratory efforts, these capable machines have not been without their drawbacks. That is starting to change, however, as a new generation of highly capable ROVs takes over some of the burdens of exploring underwater, doing so in a more well-rounded way.

One of the traditional downsides of relying on ROVs for exploration has been the costs associated with them. A full-scale remotely operated vehicle could cost millions of dollars to build or purchase from a specialized supplier, and that was often only a sign of the spending to come. Because they were also so difficult to operate, ROVs of this style required expensive, highly-trained remote pilots and supporting crews, further driving up the costs associated with them. Even their simple bulk and complexity typically meant a range of further costs that would have to be paid.

There are now real alternatives to the costly ROVs of this kind, though. At oil and energy exploration for example, one company describes its own affordable ROV offerings. Much smaller and more agile than the remotely operated vehicles that used to be the standard in the industry, these ROVs offer a number of important advantages.

The most obvious of these is that they are much less expensive to buy. More like an underwater drone than a full-scale ROV of the traditional sort, a unit of this kind carries a price tag a tiny fraction of what used to be the norm. Much more compact and slimmed-down than the ROVs that used to prevail in the industry, these drones nonetheless deliver a lot in the way of capability.

They are also much simpler to operate. Many of these units make use of intuitive, joystick-based control setups virtually anyone can master quickly, alleviating the need for highly-trained, expensive specialists. Because they are so accessible in this way, ROVs of this new generation also open up a lot of new possibilities.

Instead of needing to deploy a dedicated crew for every ROV project, oil and energy companies can instead keep some of these drones ready for whenever an appropriate occasion might arise, being confident that any of a number of employees can serve as pilot. That more flexible, more agile style of ROV, then, is making a big difference in what is often a fairly traditional industry.