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What is SCINI and why is she special?

SCINI with a diver under the ice

SCINI, which stands for Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging, is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or underwater robot.  She is specifically built to complete science missions beneath the ice in Antarctica as she is long and skinny, and she is capable of fitting through a small ice hole while still maneuverable and steady enough to fly with relative ease , and as her “guts” are electronic and are protected by a waterproof metal housing.

SCINI – opened up

SCINI is much “skinnier” than other ROVs, which range in size from the micro class VideoRay to heavy 4-ton work class ROVs.  Being the ideal size to squeeze in ice holes easily drilled by a team of three, SCINI provides access to regions that remain unstudied because of their distance from logistical support and safety considerations which are needed for other ROVs.

How does SCINI work?

SCINI is connected to a command center on the surface by a 400 meter tether, a long cable.

SCINI flying in a test tank

A pilot, sitting in the command center, uses a joystick to send commands down the tether to control five thrusters on SCINI which move her in five degrees of freedom or directions: forward or backward, up or down, to the left or to the right, tilting up or tilting down and diagonally to the left or diagonally to the right.  One of the unique parts of SCINI is that her thrusters are engineered so that she can fly diagonally forward and up at the same time.  Two thrusters placed on the top part of SCINI can both be turned on which will make her fly either up or down or only one of the two can be turned on in order to make her fly up or down at an angle.

The Command Center

The pilot uses information sent up the tether to navigate.  Images from SCINI’s 5 Mpixel videocamera display the seafloor around her.  SCINI’s camera is aided by an LED light which provides up to 2000 lumens.    SCINI also has lasers for scaling and range.

Engineering screen, view from the camera, and navigation screen

SCINI also finds her way around in the ocean using an integrated navigation system which is accurate to 20 cm.  This wireless array allows us to extend the accuracy of GPS beneath the water where satellite signals cannot penetrate.  SCINI can dive to 300 meters.


How do we get SCINI in the water?

SCINI, being only 15 cm in diameter can be deployed through a 20 cm hole in the ice. This small size hole can be drilled with a hand-held power head, requiring minimal logistical support and technical expertise.  The entire weight of SCINI and the drill is only 300 kg.  It is a simple matter to drill many holes in the ice so that the ROV can be used to survey very large areas of overlapping seafloor.

Drilling a hole for SCINI

Launching SCINI into a hole
SCINI YouTube#1 - This is the first in a two-part, interactive, educational video series. A short introduction to SCINI, an underwater robot deployed in Antarctica, is followed by a deeper look into some challenges SCINI’s engineers have faced while operating the robot in this extreme environment. Your students will then be given an explanation of the scientific principles required solve this problem, before finding themselves challenged to become a part of SCINI’s engineering team.
SCINI YouTube#2 - In Part 2 of this series, your students will compare their ideas with those of SCINI’s engineering team. The solution will be presented, then discussed in detail while referring to the scientific principles discussed in Part 1.
YouTube about Stacy on Project SCINI - Antarctica diver and benthic ecologist Dr. Stacy Kim talks about SCINI, the the Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging ROV her team has developed and is working with in Antarctica.
SCINI takes Elphel under the Antarctic Ice - Technical information about SCINI on Elphel (network camera) Developmental Blog

Additional Information