The Exosuit Opens New Frontiers for Science

| 4/30/2014 9:26:00 AM

The Exosuit

This high-tech diving suit will change the future of oceanography and medical science.

The Exosuit sounds and looks like something out of a science fiction movie, but thanks to scientist Phil Nuytten, this futuristic diving suit has become a reality. Measuring 6.5 feet long and weighing 530 pounds, the aluminum-alloy suit will allow oceanographers and deep sea divers to explore more than 1,000 feet underwater, a depth four times deeper than today’s diving gear allows. The world of underwater exploration has not seen such an advance in diving technology since 1985, when Nuytten invented the Newtsuit. The Newtsuit was the first diving suit to use rotary joints for increased flexibility and became the preferred suit for salvage and drilling jobs, but the Exosuit is a new and improved version.

Nuytten calls his creation a “[suit] of armor for the ocean,” and with its bulky exterior, the moniker seems apt. A team of four takes thirty minutes to strap a diver into the suit and connect them to the wire communicators. “It’s a paradox,” Nuytten explained to Mashable. “You need a suit that’s rigid to withstand the outside pressure, but you also need to be able to move and walk. . . . The heart of an [Atmospheric Diving Suit] is the joint system.” In that case, the Exosuit has a huge heart, boasting 18 rotary joints for increased mobility. The suit also has four jet thrusters that push divers through the water and multiple hand gadgets that can be attached and removed for specific missions, providing a dexterity that previous suits lacked.

Depths beyond several hundred feet were previously difficult for divers to reach with their limited air supplies and lengthy decompression times, but the Exosuit is equipped with multiple oxygen systems that support up to 50 hours of diving. The suit runs on an internal pressure of one technical atmosphere, the same pressure as sea level, which reduces the risk of decompression sickness by allowing divers to return to surface pressure without needing to decompress. These features, along with the advanced communication channels that allow divers to send instant feedback via live cameras to scientists above water, will allow pilots to collect and photograph marine life with newfound ease.

The Exosuit took 14 years and more than $1 million to design and construct, but its potential medical and biological benefits are immeasurable. In July, the suit will be used to explore the Canyons, an area 100 miles off the New England coast. Researchers plan to use the Exosuit to collect and photograph bioluminescent and biofluorescent organisms for use in medical research regarding cancer detection, spinal cord injuries, and neurophysiology.

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