Some divers use double tanks, others use many more (for technical diving). Some mount them along their sides. Rebreather divers use technical setups, which allow them to recirculate their air. We could consider these all variations on a theme that has changed little since scuba’s genesis. But could a rebreather helmet change all that?
A 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. They might don a self-contained helmet, such as the Oxygen Re-Breather (ORB), and hop in the water. A combined scuba-diving setup and full-face mask, the diver would wear the rebreather helmet as pretty much the only piece of gear. A diver would only need a pair of fins and perhaps a weight belt to descend.
Thomas Winship, a B.A. student at Staffordshire University in the U.K, designed the ORB to be constructed from several layers of pressure-resisting material. This means that the interior of the helmet maintains surface pressure. This could reduce, if not eliminate, the inner-ear stress that divers experience during descent and ascent, which keeps some people from diving altogether.
The helmet itself contains a rebreather system. The diver would re-use expelled breathing air, scrubbed of CO2.. Additional added oxygen makes it breathable again. The helmet would also contain Bluetooth technology so the user could 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. Winship has made a model, but there is no prototype and there have been no tests. 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. 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 the ORB helmet isn’t clear from the design or 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. If the proper technology becomes available, it could indeed revolutionize the sport.