Newcastle University, working with Cumbria-based Tritech International, has created ‘DiveTrack’, which was has just won an international design competition set up in memory of a British diver.
The device enables divers to send a distress signal to the surface if they get into difficulty, allowing a boat crew to rapidly locate the diver and attempt a rescue.
It was originally developed for communicating with ‘subsea’ vehicles or instruments which explore and drill oil and gas fields below the ocean floor. It works by sending ultrasonic sound waves between the divers and a surface unit up to 800m away.
The DiveTrack technology is deliberately low cost and uses very little power. It is about the size of a small torch, takes normal alkaline batteries, and can be strapped onto a diver’s arm. The batteries last for about two months, allowing emergency services to continue to locate divers some time after they go missing.
‘It’s very easy for rescue divers to miss somebody in the water, especially in poor visibility,’ explained Jeff Neasham, senior research associate from the University’s School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, who led the development team. ‘By accurately locating a diver in distress, this low cost device could be lifesaving.
‘When the diver pulls the cord out, a distress signal is activated, an alarm goes off at the surface and a blinking LED lets the diver know that help is on its way,’ he explained. ‘The surface unit then provides the boat crew with range information accurate to within a metre.’
During testing with the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) in Scotland, divers several hundred metres away were pinpointed within minutes of setting off the distress alarm.
Further improvements to the product currently in progress include an underwater interface to enable simple text messaging. The device could also be connected to the diver’s breathing apparatus to alert the surface crew if any technical problems occur.
The team at Newcastle University has been developing a number of similar products with Tritech International over the past few years, all using underwater acoustic communication technology.
‘This is undoubtedly the most exciting use of the technology yet, due to the difference it could make to so many people,’ said Mr Neasham.
The design competition was set up by the family of Penny Glover, who died with her dive buddy Jacques Filippi during a diving accident in 2005. The NU-Tritech team hopes to have the Divetrack product on the market early next year.
The team will pick up an award and £10,000 prize at the Institution of Engineering and Technology Award Ceremony in London on 13th November 2007.
published on: 6th November 2007