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'Electronic Dive Buddy' Set To Make Scuba Diving A Much Safer Sport; Automatically Adjusts Buoyancy

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AUKLAND, New Zealand -- An Electronic Dive Buddy built by University of Auckland engineering students could make scuba diving a much safer sport.

Anatoly Kudryashov and Jenny Xu from the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Mechatronics Engineering specialisation have designed a computerised system to automatically adjust a diver’s buoyancy if they get into trouble. The project was supervised by Associate Professor Vojislav Kecman and assisted by Technical Officer Rob Earl.

"The most important task for a diver while underwater is buoyancy control. Normally this is controlled manually by adding or releasing air in a buoyancy control device, which is worn like a jacket," Anatoly says.

"To rise in the water, a diver adds air to the buoyancy control device. To sink, air is let out. If the buoyancy is not adjusted correctly, a diver may rise too rapidly or descend too quickly to an unsafe depth, risking serious injury or sometimes death," Jenny says.

The Electronic Dive Buddy attaches to the buoyancy jacket and monitors the diver’s motion while underwater. It automatically adjusts buoyancy if an unsafe depth or velocity is reached. The device also has a ‘cruise control’ feature, allowing divers to automatically maintain a desired depth in the water.

Anatoly, who is in avid diver, couldn’t understand why computer control hadn’t been introduced to scuba diving and decided to tackle the problem as part of his assessment for a Bachelor of Engineering Degree. Mechatronics Engineering students work in pairs to complete a major research project in their final year of study.

The Electronic Dive Buddy prototype was tested in the laboratory and in a 4.7 metre deep swimming pool.

"Our tests so far have proven the device to work, so the next step is to look at its marketability. As far as I know, a device like this does not exist," Anatoly says.

Anatoly and Jenny presented their findings at The Department of Mechanical Engineering project display day on Friday, 10 October 2008. The students received an IPENZ Award for the quality of their presentation and display.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

18 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

I can see a lot of merit in a device such as this as long as it could be overridden in the case of an emergency ascent or decent, or if the diver didn`t become too complacent with it and not pay attention to his diving.
   comment# 1   - Charley Fladger · San Antonio, TX USA · Oct 20, 2008 @ 6:54am

Frankly I am a little concerned to have someone like Ms. Xu, who appears to not have any diving experience, working on such a critical piece of diving equipment. You never use your BCD "to rise in the water". That is one of the first things a new diver is taught. The reason that computer control has never been introduced before is that an experienced diver will not need it, rely on it, nor purchase something that is not nbecessary like that. I predict that the marketability will only be there for inexperieced divers, and that could be dangerous.
   comment# 2   - John Vinas · Houston, TX, USA · Oct 20, 2008 @ 7:20am

It may sell to those known as warm water wussies. Too lazy to learn to properly adjust their buoyancy and with more money than sense. So for those people it may have some attraction. For actual divers however who know that you do not add air to ascend it will just be something else to laugh and snicker at when someone shows up on the boat with it.
   comment# 3   - James Lapenta · Canonsburg, PA USA · Oct 20, 2008 @ 12:54pm

Does an aircraft designer need to be able to fly? An underwater autopilot WILL actually need to add air for an instant to trigger an ascent to a new shallower depth. Albeit that air will be dumped almost instantly the ascent still needs to be triggered somehow. The other option would be to send a message to the 'pilot' to begin his ascent manually and the device would still work but then that wouldn't be fully automatic 'dial a depth' control. Think about it and give the girl a break. Peter
   comment# 4   - Peter Burridge · Kendal UK · Oct 21, 2008 @ 12:09am

Nice idea, and great to see innovation and research into all things scuba, but if you are reaching unsafe depths and diving too fast, you should pay more attention instead of paying more money for equipment.
   comment# 5   - J Gilbert · Perth, Australia · Oct 21, 2008 @ 11:25pm

Peter, are you a diver? I completely agree with the previous statements. A diver does not add air to begin an ascent, he or she begins swimming upward from a neutral buoyancy state. Air in the BCD expands as a diver rises and must be released to control the ascent, otherwise the rate of ascent will continue to increase as the air continues to expand. The result would be an uncontrolled ascent, possibly resulting in decompression sickness, a life-threatening affliction also known as the bends. Such an automated device would do little more than waste air as it repetitively adds and releases air to maintain neutral buoyancy. As a diver, I don't want an automated device trying to outthink or outguess me while I'm trying to deal with an underwater emergency. Airbus Industries encountered this very problem when they began using computer-controlled fly-by wire systems in their passenger aircraft. The computer wouldn't allow the pilot to do what he wanted or needed to do and the aircraft crashed. Other Airbus planes have departed controlled flight because the computer conflicted with the pilot. An automated system such as the one described will just make some people believe they can go diving solo, without a buddy. I'd rather rely on a trusted dive buddy any day to help me in an underwater emergency. Cheers!
   comment# 6   - Tim Hardy · Warner Robins, GA USA · Oct 22, 2008 @ 4:47pm

This sounds like a great Darwin Award attempt...
   comment# 7   - Michael · Canada · Oct 22, 2008 @ 6:57pm

As an experienced diver I know that in an emergency once i kick up ward i will rise to the surface and having a computer that decides that it should adjust my buoyancy would be dangerous and could malfunction, there is allways human error however i think that people should spend more time perfecting their buoyancy rather than wasting money on a device that will probably be more harm than good.
   comment# 8   - Sam · Edmonton, Canada · Oct 22, 2008 @ 7:26pm

I've seen narc'd divers lose control in deep situations, start sinking without knowing it. Also, have navigated mid-waters before in search of a reef in the middle of a harbor, it is hard to keep your depth and watch your compass at the same time, all the while, keep from panicing due to the surrounding blue and the easiness of losing depth and direction perception, add silt to the water and it can really freak you out. If you can manually over-ride this feature, it might be worth consideration.
   comment# 9   - Tom · Highland, IL USA · Oct 23, 2008 @ 10:36am

What's next? Autopilots and GPS for aircraft? Adds needless complication for anyone competent to engage in the activity.
   comment# 10   - Gary · San Jose, CA · Oct 23, 2008 @ 11:37am

Some of you old divers may remember a regulator from Watergill back in the 70's. It was designed to automatically inflate the BC if a diver stopped breathing. They didn't go over too big. I do recall when those of us who learned to dive before BC's thought that buoyancy compensators were for wussies. Automatic buoyancy control has been a goal for a long time. Properly designed, this could be a benefit for those who have trouble with buoyancy control. Check out the Handicapped Scuba Association to see who's diving now. Obviously, this product is not for every diver, but neither are eyeglasses or hearing aids. Good Dives, Charlie
   comment# 11   - Charlie Notthoff · Eureka, CA · Oct 23, 2008 @ 11:41am

Most early student buoyancy problems are cause by carrying too much weight. My first dives were made in Monterey with a 7mil wetsuit that trapped a lot of air. PADI buoyancy check in a pool had me carrying 10 lbs too much lead. Buoyancy nightmare: sank like a rock, shot up like a rocket. The dumb way to solve that problem would have been a system to manage the BCD. The smart way to solve that problem would have been an instructor diagnosing their student's problem. I solved it by getting rid of 2lbs each dive till I felt stable at safety stop. Inexperienced diver sinking like a rock has too many things happening to them and may panic. A runaway ascent can injure or kill. That's certainly worth considering and I'm not necessarily opposed to a system which can stop it. But the first is proper weighting. And the second is both the student and dive master planning dives that are within their capabilities and experience. Computers crash or glitch. Programs have bugs. Inflators stick and BCD's can stick open. I wouldn't want the BCD fighting a CESA. Nor would I want a computer causing the problem it was intended to fight. So please keep it simple.
   comment# 12   - Robert · San Jose, California, USA · Oct 23, 2008 @ 12:09pm

Good project for a grade...but not in the real world of diving. Please design an elctric car that can go 500 miles and cost under 10,000.00 that everyone could possibly afford. And Charles....I liked my horsecollar...some things are better left alone...
   comment# 13   - Greg · Oakley, ca · Oct 26, 2008 @ 9:16am

Hello all, I'm one of the designers of this project. First of all, please understand that the person writing this article was not a diver and did not fully understand what the main idea of the project was. What is written is formed in the way so it sounds grand. We know that the diver does not put air in to the BCD in order to ascent and our device does not do that. In fact, it does the opposite. Our device allows a full manual control at any time. It was never intended to replace manual buoyancy control, but to aid the divers with it in the dangerous situations regarding ascent and descent rates. And whatever you may say, all divers no matter how experienced will be in a dangerous, life threatening situation underwater at some point in their lives. Another point, it is not air hungry. It monitors the change in depth constantly, but only regulates the amount of air in the BCD when the diver's ascent or descent rate is above a safe limit. It will use more air in the “constant depth” state, but it is only because it can not swim or breathe for you, thus it changes buoyancy of the diver to affect the depth. We think this function could be used during decompression stops at 5 meters. The device was intended to make diving a little safer and more enjoyable. Those people who think that 3 extra buttons will make the whole process too complex and that you can do without it- fine, no one is forcing this on you. I know that next time I’m going diving, I’m taking the device
   comment# 14   - Anatoly Kudryashov · New Zealand · Nov 2, 2008 @ 4:12pm

Hi Anatoly, interesting to hear about your project, however please note that there is already a similar patented invention on such device. The item was developped by a German company (called Aquapilot) and the patent acquired by Mares. Please get in touch with us.
   comment# 15   - MARES · Italy · Nov 3, 2008 @ 8:44pm

The plot thickens...
   comment# 16   - J Gilbert · Australia · Nov 7, 2008 @ 5:31am

Today I am a SCUBA instructor and avid technical diver, but back in 1985 before I even learned to dive, a friend Art Chambers who was already a diver and I proposed to design and develop a device we dubbed the Automatic Bouyancy Controller. It was a BCD fitted with solenoid valves and a microcontroller that could hold stable depth & ascend or descend at a safe rate on command, and perhap also provide a deadman's handle function that could surface an unresponsive diver. However, while there was no technical reason this could not be implemented after further consideration we decided it would not be beneficial in practice, and never went on to develop it. Issues included complexity, reliability, cost, swimming up/down, waves, & most important lack of diver engagement. Now some 20+ years later as an experienced diver my opinion remains that such a device is not only unecessary but is potentially hazardous. If a new diver is properly trained they should not need this device, and if they are not safe to dive without it they should not be diving. An ascent rate warning may be useful, and many dive computers can already provide that function as well as max depth, max PO & deco alarms. One possible application I can envisage for turning a diver into a "submarine with an auto pilot" is rebreather users. They have little (SCR) or no (CCR) breath control over buoyancy (due to counter lungs), & ascent/descent rates must be stringently controlled
   comment# 17   - Neil Benjamin · Austin USA · Nov 25, 2008 @ 11:34pm

Congratulationsˇ It's a nice idea, I thought this the first time I dove. I'm sure, despite the precedent comments, the marketability is assured, not only for the unexperiment divers, also for the others. The advantages could be the improvement in the comfortability of diving and the saving in bottle air (for avoiding waste air due human errors). In long term, people incorporate in their sports all the innovations that make more easy the activity.
   comment# 18   - David Gomez · Madrid, SPAIN · Sep 1, 2009 @ 12:08am
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