A deep-sea sports car
The vessel looks like a cross between a giant crab and a helicopter without a rotor, but to oceanographers it is a thing of beauty. Deep Rover, the world’s latest and most advanced one-man submarine, had its launching at a pier in Dartmouth, N.S., last week before marine scientists from around the world. It can dive deeper, stay down longer and is easier to operate than any of the dozens of other minisubs in operation. Said Phil Nuytten, 42, president of Vancouver-based Can-Dive Services Ltd., which built the vessel in Dartmouth: “We hope this thing will be a kind of new generation of underwater sports car rather than a sophisticated device that takes great training and skill to manage.”
The offshore oil industry’s demand for small submarines to perform repairs and maintenance on ocean rigs has spurred international designers to produce many new minisubs. But Deep Rover’s developers say they are confident that the unmatched visibility from its globular acrylic cockpit, its simple handling, the dexterity of its manipulator arms and its ability to work for long periods at great depths will quickly give it commercial appeal. Measuring only about eight feet in length and about the same in height the three-ton machine can dive to 3,300 feet, with the power to stay there a week if necessary. Minisubs have generally been limited to about 2,000 feet and a three-day time limit. British-born designer Graham
Hawkes, a friend of Nuytten’s, spent two years working on the plans for Deep Rover at Deep Ocean Engineering Inc. in San Francisco, Calif., where he is president. He managed to produce a machine sensitive enough for its operator to pick up eggs in the powerful, pincer-like claws, or even sketch detailed drawings. The vehicle constantly maintains a surface-level air pressure that spares the operator from having to undergo hours of decompression after long dives. Said veteran U.S. diver Donald Walsh, a member of Hawkes’s board of advisers: “Most of those ideas have been used before, but Graham has combined them in a new way with very good engineering. It is nothing revolutionary but it is highly evolutionary.”
Nuytten, who said he had dreamed of designing an “underwater helicopter,” arranged financing to build Deep Rover in Dartmouth. For now, Petro-Canada has leased the one completed Deep Rover from Can-Dive for two years to work on drilling rigs off Newfoundland. If that assignment goes well, the ship’s developers hope for many more orders from underwater scientists as well as oil companies. The prototype will cost more than $1 million, but Hawkes expects later models to sell for about $750,000. Said he: “The vision behind Deep Rover is that, ultimately, it will be possible to have comfortable, affordable access to the ocean in a manner as commonplace as driving an automobile.” -MICHAEL CLUGSTON in Halifax.