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Science & Tech

Getting an underwater grip

The latest update in diving suit technology

  • Jun 30, 2012
  • 353 words
  • 2 minutes
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Phil Nuytten just can’t stop looking for ways to improve things. Barely three months after unveiling his latest creation, the Exosuit, the Vancouverbased inventor is already working on ways to make it even better.

So how do you improve a dive suit that can operate at depths of more than 300 metres, comes with a self-contained life-support system and has four 1.6-horsepower thrusters, an HD camera and sonar? Simple — just add hands.

Nuytten is aiming to attach another of his creations, an articulated mechanical three-fingered “hand” called the Prehensor, to the Exosuit. The prostheticlike device mimics the human hand and would provide a greater level of dexterity than the suit’s current pliers-style grips or bulky gloves.

“We plan to install it on the Exosuit next year,” says Nuytten, adding that the device could also be used in other extreme environments. “It’s a system that could potentially be placed in spacesuit gloves. With those, it takes a lot of strength to close the fingers, and as soon as you relax, the whole thing pops open again, since the whole suit is pressurized like a big balloon.”

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Henry Larsen made his first voyage through the Northwest Passage in two years starting in June 1940; he completed the route in 86 days the second time around. (Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic)

Nuytten is already looking ahead to an electronic version of the Prehensor, one that could provide sensory feedback, such as weight, pressure and feel to the hand controlling it. And he’d like to eventually add flippers to the Exosuit to increase its mobility.

Nuytten, whose previous creations include the Newtsuit (an earlier version of the Exosuit) and the submarine rescue system Remora, knows that sometimes it can take years before ideas are made whole (the Exosuit took 10), especially when you have a successful undersea technology business to run.

“We’re making submarines and doing contracting for diving all over the world, so it doesn’t leave much time to work on inventions,” he says. “It’s been kind of on the back burner, but we make baby steps every year.”


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