A Newcastle University team has won a competition with a device which uses technology traditionally used to communicate with underwater vehicles to help divers in distress.
The team, working with Cumbria-based Tritech International, developed ‘DiveTrack’, which won an international design competition set up by the family of British diver Penny Glover, who died during a diving accident in 2005.
The group picked up an award and £10,000 prize at the Institution of Engineering and Technology award ceremony yesterday, 13 November. The NU-Tritech team hopes to have the Divetrack product on the market early next year.
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.
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.