Could a Rebreather Helmet Revolutionize Scuba Diving?

Some divers use double tanks; others use many more (for technical diving); some mount them along their sides; and rebreather divers use technical setups, which allow them to recirculate their air. But these could all be considered variations on a theme that has changed little since scuba’s genesis.

Revolutionary Rebreather Helmet?

However, if a new product concept becomes reality, this may change. Divers may one day be able to leave the tanks behind, put on a helmet that looks like a futuristic pilot’s helmet, and hop in the water. The ORB, standing for Oxygen Re-Breather, is a self-contained unit that you wear on your head. A combined scuba-diving setup and full-face mask, the rebreather helmet is designed to be worn as pretty much the only piece of gear, aside from a pair of fins and perhaps a weight belt to help the diver descend.

Thomas Winship, a B.A. student at Staffordshire University in the U.K, has designed the ORB to be constructed from several layers of pressure-resisting material, which means that the interior of the helmet maintains surface pressure. This will reduce, if not eliminate, the stress on the inner ear that divers experience during descent and ascent, stress that keeps some people from diving altogether.

The idea is that the helmet itself contains a rebreather system, wherein expelled breathing air is re-used, scrubbed of CO2, and has additional oxygen added to make it breathable again. The helmet would also contain Bluetooth technology to allow the user to communicate wirelessly with other divers using the same type of helmet.

It’s important to note that the rebreather helmet, while exciting, is only in the conceptual phase, meaning that the idea is described and a model has been made, but no prototype exist, and no tests have been done. The helmet faces a number of challenges before it could be reality. First of all, while rebreather technology is already on the market, and is quite advanced, it is also quite bulky. A rebreather needs a number of parts to work, including a counterlung to capture expelled air, a scrubber (a filter, wherein the air goes through a material that absorbs the CO2, typically some form of calcium), and one or more gas mixers. Most commercially available rebreathers have an oxygen tank, a nitrogen tank and possibly a helium tank (for deep diving). They rely on a computer to mix the three in the optimal ratio for the given depth and to avoid oxygen toxicity, thus the bulk. There are more compact rebreathers available called oxygen rebreathers, which only scrub the CO2 and add oxygen, but these only work in relatively shallow water (about 20 feet) due to the risk of oxygen toxicity. For this reason, they are largely used by commercial and military divers.

How the gas supply will fit into a unit like the ORB helmet isn’t clear from the design or from the designer’s description. On his Behance page, he has yet to answer questions regarding this issue, and the management of partial-oxygen pressure. How he will overcome the limited range of Bluetooth under water is not yet answered, either. At this point, the ORB helmet makes for an interesting idea, and should technology one day be available that allows it to go into production, it could indeed revolutionize the sport.

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