WetPC® Underwater Computer
What is the WetPC® underwater computer?
The WetPC® underwater computer is considered to be the world’s first wearable general purpose computer for underwater use. It consists of a personal computer within a pressure-proof housing, which is connected to a mask-mounted virtual display and a 5-button hand controller called a Kord® Pad. A highly innovative and intuitive chordic graphical user interface (CGUI) enables the diver to control the computer with just one hand, even whilst swimming.
Who invented the WetPC® underwater computer?
The WetPC® underwater computer was invented by Bruce Macdonald whilst he was working at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Bruce is now the Chief Technology Officer of Kord Defence.
It is listed as the Australian Invention for 1993 (see here)
Why was it invented?
Originally developed in a wearable form, the WetPC® underwater computer was designed so that researchers could collect biological data more efficiently and effectively. At that time the information was collected using paper (plasticised) and pencil; this method is still used in a variety of different underwater applications. By introducing a computer underwater it was hoped that this would lead to a reduction in errors (largely associated with transcribing the data later onto computer) and costs (i.e. time spent underwater collecting information).
How long did it take to invent?
Work on the computer began in 1992 and it took about a year before the general form of the system took shape. It was not until 1993 however that the idea of a CGUI (see below) emerged. The concept behind the invention was patented shortly thereafter. The original wearable WetPC® underwater computer had a small 486 CPU (PC104 form) with programmed EPROM, a red monochrome head-up display (The Private Eye by Phoenix Technologies Inc.) and a 5 button keyboard. At the time it was used to record and display relatively simple types of information (e.g. line diagrams, categorised data).
How does the wearable WetPC® underwater computer work?
The Kord® Pad attached to the diver's belt or chest, and the small virtual display attached to the outside of the mask in front of the diver's eye (projecting a computer screen in front of the diver), were both connected via a cable to the computer (in a pressure-proof housing) which was mounted on the back of the diver's SCUBA tank. The diver was able to access and record information with one hand via the Kord® Pad. A handheld variation of this configuration, called the SeaSlate, has been developed for RAN divers.
To view a demonstration of the wearable WetPC underwater computer click here
What can it be used for?
The WetPC® underwater computer could be used to undertake such tasks as navigation and positioning, task planning, and information retrieval (such as maps, user manuals and schematics). Whilst AIMS initially planned to use the WetPC® underwater computer primarily for its work on the Great Barrier Reef, considerable commercial and military potential exists. Integration of digital databases, digital maps, position fixing technologies, task planning execution and data logging software into the basic hardware suite would provide the commercial or military diver with an in-water planner and data source. Combined with an underwater navigation system, the computer could enable a diver to log dive profiles and swim paths, to return to specific locations, and also to navigate around large structures.
Recreational diving is also gaining momentum, and companies are increasingly manufacturing high technology equipment (e.g. dive “computers”) for the marketplace. The WetPC® underwater computer could serve as a platform for incorporating these technologies into one complete package. As such it could be used for the rapidly growing tourism industry where there is a well defined need for educational information (provided on CD-ROM) on the environment.
The major areas of application for the WetPC® underwater computer are:
Marine and freshwater research
Defence (e.g. Explosive Ordinance Disposal, Mine Counter Measures, SAS)
Maintenance of underwater structures (e.g. bridges, pylons)
Recreational diving (e.g. tourism)
Law enforcement (e.g. police searches)
Civil Engineering (e.g. platform construction)
Oil and gas diving
Environmental (e.g. marine park rangers)
Watersports (e.g. boating, yacht racing)
How does the CGUI work?
It is the CGUI that allows the diver to control the WetPC® underwater computer - even whilst swimming! Users operate the ambidextrous, 5-button Kord® Pad by pressing the buttons in various combinations. Similar to playing a piano (but nowhere near as difficult!), they press single or multiple keys at one time to execute particular commands. In difficult environments the CGUI has several advantages.
The technology is completely different from current chordic devices which require the user to learn which chords represent which character or command. The CGUI has graphic buttons on the screen that tell the user which buttons to press. Instead of memorising chords, the user merely looks at the screen to see which fingers to use, the principle being 'what you see is what you press'. Typing, pointing, menu selection and other techniques are all possible with the invention.
Users find that 'muscle memory' rapidly develops, allowing them to not only make selections far faster than with a mouse or stylus, but totally eyes-free. Additionally, because the Kord® Pad is a digital device, it is unaffected by vibration or bumping the way pointers (such as a trackball) are. Harder to describe than to do, the method is readily learnt and very intuitive. Our own investigations and those of our clients have shown that new users are usually confident within minutes, even those that have never used a computer before.