Rhode Island Firm Develops New Diving Technology that Allows Camping-Like Excursions Underwater


This habitat provides a relatively dry and protected space underwater for divers to enter. (Ocean Opportunity Inc.)

An October diving technology test off the coast of Portsmouth, R.I., successfully demonstrated the deployment and utility of an “underwater tent” that allows its occupants to essentially camp out underwater.

The underwater tent technology’s co-inventors, Michael Lombardi of Lombardi Undersea LLC and Winslow Burleson of New York University, were recently awarded a patent for the technology. The patent “Portable Inflatable Habitat with Modular Payload, System and Method” is the direct evolution of previous work and system deployments by Lombardi in the Bahamas and Hong Kong.

The habitat provides a relatively dry and protected space underwater for divers to enter, remove their equipment, and carry out any number of tasks before returning to the surface. This technology improves capabilities in deep scientific diving, medical treatment of decompression sickness in remote locations, and the opportunity to experience the underwater world in a newly immersive way. The tent system is highly portable, akin to a backpacking journey, and can provide adequate life support to support two occupants through an overnight stay.

During the recent tests, the habitat was deployed in Gull Cove, where Lombardi and Burleson entered the system and rehearsed procedures for habitat ingress/egress, atmospheric management using the embedded life support technology, and troubleshot protocols for system deployment and recovery.

“This was the third successful system deployment in recent years, with each improving upon the technology and techniques from the previous,” Lombardi said. “Now securing patent protection for the system, we are excited about the prospects for moving the project towards commercialization. … The underwater value is analogous to a backpacking excursion — we certainly learn more from an overnight in the environment than a short walk in the park.”

Looking forward, Lombardi noted that he is “most excited about using these small underwater tents as proxies for Mars exploration excursions away from a base camp.”

The project has benefitted from steady contributions from a number of Rhode Island small businesses and programs, including Lombardi Undersea LLC, Ocean Opportunity Inc., Subsalve USA, Juice Robotics LLC, and the Innovate Rhode Island small grants program. The project also has been supported by New York University, the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program, the University of Connecticut, and the Bahamas Marine EcoCentre.


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