How would you guys recommend making a variable ballast system for an underwater robot? I was thinking about this problem earlier and I was trying to figure out if there was a way to make one that didn't require a tank of compressed air.
Variable ballast on ROVs in practice is usually limited to just the really big ones, for several reasons:
- In general, you only need to vary your ballast when you're trying to get an exact amount of buoyancy at great depth -- when that amount would be different than at the surface (due to compression of various components)
- The pressure housing required adds a lot of size and weight
- The power required for the pump or compressor is significant
- It requires more maintenance
That's not to say it can't be done on a small scale, for slight adjustments to ballast. Underwater gliders use variable ballast as "buoyancy engines".
Depending on your specific application, you might get away with one of the following alternatives:
- Descending with a dropweight, then shedding it at the desired depth (repeat for rapid ascent)
- Having a canister of lead shot, and dropping the balls in a controlled fashion until you have reached the desired buoyancy -- useful if you are going to collect samples
- Use more powerful motors and actively compensate for buoyancy