Wave of the Future

Diver Augmented Vision Display helps divers better plan and conduct diving operations

By Sheryl Jackson


ALL PH
OTOS COURTESY CODA OCTOPUS


Sometimes a technology product that doesn’t pan out for an initial use inspires other uses for the technology. Take Google Glass as an example.

The initial version of Google Glass was shipped to selected developers in 2013, and then the product was withdrawn from the market in 2015. A lack of understanding about how consumers would use the wearable display and concerns about privacy led to the demise of the product.

Although Google Glass did not perform as initially hoped, the concept of smart glass technology inspired the research and development of specialized products for use in a variety of industrial environments such as warehouse order picking, manufacturing lines and maintenance engineering. The opportunity to access information about product locations, assembly instructions or maintenance records via wearable technology as the task is performed improves efficiency, quality and safety.

The benefits of technology-assisted vision for divers intrigued the leaders of the U.S. Navy Diving Program who began researching the capabilities, then partnered with Coda Octopus, an underwater solution provider, to merge technologies to produce a see-through head-up display capability integrated into a diving instructions or maintenance records via wearable technology as the task is performed improves efficiency, quality and safety.

The benefits of technology-assisted vision for divers intrigued the leaders of the U.S. Navy Diving Program who began researching the capabilities, then partnered with Coda Octopus, an underwater solution provider, to merge technologies to produce a see-through head-up display capability integrated into a diving helmet. The system prototype was originally developed by Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City and was eventually sponsored and funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) through an ONR Future Naval Capabilities program.

“I was presenting information about Coda Octopus’ 3D real-time sonar technology when I met the director of the U.S. Navy Diving Program in 2015, and he told me about their development of a new underwater vision system,” says Blair Cunningham, President of Technology of Coda Octopus Products. “He was interested in our working together to fuse the technology his group was developing with our Echoscope® sonar technology.”

Four years later, the first generation of the CodaOctopus® Divers Augmented Vision Display (DAVD) was ready for fleet issue at the end of 2019 and became available for commercial use in early 2020. “We are working with a four-generation plan for DAVD to get to our final vision of the technology, with additional sensors and capability added for each generation as well as other operational changes based on user input,” says Cunningham. While COVID-19 travel restrictions have slowed adoption and expansion into the commercial market, he points out that DAVD already provides more benefits than available with other systems.

“Handheld tablets or monocular displays that cover one eye while in use require divers to look down to review instructions or dive information, taking focus away from the divers spatial awareness and task, additionally monocular devices can affect depth perception,” says Cunningham. Just as a head-up display that projects information onto the windshield of a car allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road while looking at navigation guidance, speed or other information, DAVD allows divers to “see” their surroundings while also reviewing distances to target, step-by-step instructions, technical specifications, alerts and messages from the dive supervisor with controlled balance between the real and augmented scene, he says.

The vision display is one part of an overall workflow that typically begins with a detailed 3D area scan used in the DAVD built-in diver simulator for the diver and supervisor to use to pre-plan routes. The system also supports scene augmentation, which incorporates live real-time 3D sonar imagery, 3D models and CAD drawings of known structures and hazards to reduce the risk of the dive operation. During the live dive, the DAVD system tracks the diver’s head motion and orientation with subsea positioning from the real-time 3D sonar and external sensors.

“A key challenge and continued area of significant research and advancement in the DAVD program is accurate positioning of the diver in real-time, which is not currently available in the market place and is critical to leverage the full-capability that has been developed in the DAVD software and components,” says Cunningham. “Fully enabled, the DAVD system allows real-time communication between the diver and diving supervisor and utilizes proximity based geo-tagging of data, information and assets.”

“Typically, communications between a dive supervisor and diver in marine construction, oil and gas, or salvage operations is audio-only, with the supervisor often having enhanced camera imagery that is used to tell the diver where to go and what to do,” says Cunningham. “Divers are left to their own devices to exit the dive stage, walk to the site, avoid new debris and complete the task.”

Not only does an augmented, head-up display allow divers to stay focused on their tasks, but it gives them access to the same information and data the diving supervisor has, points out Cunningham. “The real value of this approach is the ability to better plan and execute the dive operations, and then to review the recording of each dive afterwards to make adjustments to the plan and data available for the next dive,” he says. “These recordings allow divers to update maps and practice their dive in advance rather than figuring it out as they go along, which improves efficiency and safety of the dive.”

One of the goals for DAVD was to make the head-up display unit as easy to use as possible to use. “When I talked with commercial diving companies, I learned that all of their divers had their own helmets, which means that the company might purchase several systems, but there might be 20 different helmets,” he says. “For that reason, we use standard Kirby Morgan® parts to connect the DAVD faceplate to the helmet, so it takes about 5 to 10 minutes to replace the standard faceplate and plug the cable into the comms port.”

Although augmented vision is especially valuable when a diver is working in zero visibility conditions, Cunningham points out that any system should be “visibility agnostic” and provide value in all conditions. “Even divers working in clear visibility conditions may forget instructions received in a briefing or need to message the dive supervisor,” he says. “Also, the ability to record and review each dive to prepare for the next improves operations and enhances safety providing a diver black box.”

Even though the augmented vision display is only one part of the overall system, Cunningham describes it as “a game changer” and says, “It is an extensible media portal available underwater that can give divers technical drawings, show hazards along the way, alert divers to dangers, and make the diver’s job safer and more productive.”