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Divers debut “Iron Man” exosuit to explore ancient Greek shipwreck

diving exosuit

An international expedition off the coast of Greece has completed the latest exploration of the famed Antikythera wreck, thanks to a revolutionary new metal suit known as the “Iron Man” diving exosuit that allows divers to stay submerged for 50 hours at depths of 1000 feet, according to the BBC.

The wreck is located off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera, and northwest of Crete. It has been well documented over the last century, but its depth presented problems when it came to salvaging the remains. The exosuit could be the answer to that.

The remains of the ship are located roughly 165 feet to 200 feet below the surface, and it is believed to have sunk in the 2nd quarter of the 1st century BC. Following its initial discovery in 1900 by local sponge divers, professional divers wearing canvas suits and metallic helmets spent the better part of a year exploring the wreckage, salvaging jewels, marble statues, small artifacts, and more. In 1901, however, the death of one diver and paralysis of two more forced the Greek Education Ministry and the Royal Hellenic Navy to rule the dives too dangerous.

exo2Over the next century several expeditions would return, including famed French explorer Jacques Cousteau in 1976. Even using modern diving equipment including rebreathers though, divers can spend no more than three hours at that depth before risking their health. The new exosuit, however, allows divers to stay underwater for nearly 50 hours without risk to the diver inside the suit. In essence, it is a one man submarine that allows the occupant fine motor skills.

Designed by Nuytco Research Ltd., the exosuit is a metal dive suit featuring an atmospheric diving system (ADS) that maintains cabin pressure and keeps the interior pressure roughly the same as that on the surface. In theory, the suit can operate at 1000 feet without significant loss of mobility, although this first dive kept it at around 200 feet. The exosuit contains 18 joints, allowing for dexterity and delicate work. It also features thrusters for propulsion, as well as an emergency battery in case the umbilical cord connecting it to ship on the surface is damaged or lost. It may look a bit like a homicidal robot straight out of old school episodes of Doctor Who, but it offers divers the chance to explore depths never before possible outside of a submersible.

The Antikythera wreck was the debut of the exosuit, and a successful one at that. The expedition, headed by the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of Greece and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of the US, utilized both the exosuit and traditional divers to explore the remains of the ship. The group recovered several new relics, including a giant bronze spear the team believes was part of a statue of a warrior.

A second expedition by the group is planned for next year to search for more antiquities, including additional parts of the device known as the Antikythera Mechanism, or astrolabe. The mechanism, originally recovered in 1900 or 1901, was designed between 150 and 100 BC to predict astronomical positions and eclipses. It was so far ahead of its time that nothing approaching its complexity or workmanship was seen again until the 14th century (the Dark Ages had something to do with that gap in time as well). Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Institute recently told the BBC that he hoped further expeditions would reveal additional parts of the mechanism.

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Founder and DBP boss. Ryan likes the Kansas Jayhawks, long walks on the beach, and high fiving unsuspecting people.
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