the intrepid benthic rover II


researchers at monterey bay aquarium research institute (MBARI) unveil the benthic rover II, an autonomous, deep-sea roaming robot. while the deep sea is the largest living space on the planet, the team at MBARI notes that less is known about it than any other planet in the solar system. the newly designed rover has embarked into the unknown in an effort to collect continuous long-term data to observe and report weekly, seasonal, and episodic events on the abyssal sea floor.


the benthic rover II traveled to a depth of 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) to explore the muddy floor of the deep sea, and will autonomously collect oceanographic data for more than five years. the intrepid robot, about the size of a small car, is equipped with onboard cameras and other such instruments which capture glimpses of the mysterious communities which occupy the floor of the deep.

deep-sea benthic roverimages courtesy of monterey bay aquarium research institute (MBARI)



understanding the deep-sea carbon cycle


MBARI released its benthic rover II into the deep-sea in a multi-purpose investigation. the robot will uncover the mysterious creatures which occupy the ocean’s depths while reporting critical data which will help the team of researchers — led by alana sherman of electrical engineering group and ken smith of MBARI — to understand the poorly quantified deep-ocean carbon cycle. while it’s widely understood that increasing carbon dioxide emissions have harmfully impacted the changing climate, the rover will offer more insight into these effects.


while this little-known abyss is thousands of meters away from the light of the sun, these depths are still connected to the waters above and are vital for the cycling and sequestration of carbon. this link to the shallows can be seen with bits of organic matter — particles of dead plants, animals, and excreted waste — which slowly sink to the seafloor to be ingested by the community below. some of this carbon is digested by the deep sea lifeforms while the rest might get trapped in the muddy sediments for thousands of years.


smith and sherman elaborate:as animals and microbes digest organic matter, they use oxygen and release carbon dioxide in a specific ratio. knowing how much oxygen those animals and microbes use is crucial for understanding carbon remineralization — the breakdown of organic matter into simpler components, including carbon dioxide.’

this deep-sea rover will autonomously explore the mysterious abyss for over five yearsbenthic rover animation by frame48



resilient and long-lasting


scientists have long relied on stationary instruments to study carbon consumption by communities at such depths, and these instruments could only be deployed for a few days at a time. after 25 years of engineering advancements, mbari has developed a long-term solution.


the benthic rover II will withstand the cold, corrosive, and high-pressure conditions of the deep sea. constructed from corrosion-resistant titanium, plastic, and pressure-resistant syntactic foam, the bot can withstand depths reaching 6,000 meters (about 19,700 feet) deep — for reference, the earth’s deepest oceanic trench, mariana’s trench, is 11,034 meters (36,201 feet) deep.

this deep-sea rover will autonomously explore the mysterious abyss for over five years

abyssal BR-II working on the seafloor at 4,000 meter depth



MBARI senior scientist ken smith comments:the success of this abyssal rover now permits long-term monitoring of the coupling between the water column and seafloor. understanding these connected processes is critical to predicting the health and productivity of our planet engulfed in a changing climate.’


a study published in science robotics details the rover’s development and proven long-term operation — read more here.

this deep-sea rover will autonomously explore the mysterious abyss for over five years