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Automating the Buoyancy Compensator? October 26, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Equipment.
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Is it an idea whose time has come? I’ve seen a couple of articles lately about this development. The University of Auckland‘s mechanical engineering department, quotes a spokesperson as saying “to rise in the water, the diver adds air to the buoyancy control device. To sink, air is let out”. Really? I don’t think so!

Unfortunately this is the misconception that causes runaway ascents with new divers. They add air to rise, then the air expands and they rise faster, etc. etc. This is managed by releasing air on the ascent, and going the other way, adding air as buoyancy is lost while descending.

Call me a luddite, but I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with this concept. To be useful, it would have to meaningfully reduce a diver’s task loading, and be very reliable. It couldn’t substitute for buoyancy training, as you’d have to be trained to dive without it and manage any abnormal behaviour if it failed to work properly, so it would require a better trained diver than a standard BC. This is very similar to pilots needing to be able to fly an airplane when the autopilot is broken, and also to be able to recognize an autopilot malfunction and override it if required.

So what purpose would it serve for recreational diving? Can it be argued that there is some threshold of reliability below which it exceeds the average diver’s skill level, resulting in less overall diving acccidents even without special training? Could such a device handle every situation thrown at it – like vertical currents or a diver who actually wants to be negative or positively buoyant? So far it’s only been tested in a swimming pool.

The inventors are looking for development funds. I won’t be first in line to buy one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some day this invention might be as well accepted as the BC itself.

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