Virtual Diving Scuba TV

by Robert Langreth

You're 200 feet down, on a mission to explore a 100-year-old wreck. You locate the ship, and your companion motions for you to follow him. But before you go, you swivel a tiny black eyepiece in front of one eye. Then you turn on the TV.

Sound crazy? Not to Dennis Gallagher at the Navy's Coastal Systems Station in Panama City, Florida. Divers on military and scientific missions, he says, often want to view maps, instructions, and other graphics while keeping both hands free. The typical handheld underwater monitor, however, doesn't allow for this.

Now Gallagher and his colleagues have crafted a solution: a head-up color display no bigger than a postage stamp. It consists of a miniature LCD made by Seiko Epson, hooked up to an electronics package that projects a "virtual image" of the LCD in the water several feet in front of the diver. The whole apparatus attaches to the diver's mask on a hinge so it can be quickly pushed aside.

The technology, which the Navy plans to license to commercial manufacturers, creates a sensation every time it's shown to the public. Diving schools, for example, want it to help beginners monitor their depth and oxygen supply. Underwater filmmakers want to use it as a viewfinder. And deep-sea divers, believe it or not, want to watch movies or TV programs on it. After lengthy forays underwater, divers must decompress for several hours. What could better help pass the time than a few episodes of, say, "Baywatch"?

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gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)