Atmospheric Diving | One Size Fits Some

This morning, I woke up and put on 36 waist pants, an XL t-shirt, and size 11 work boots. My colleagues at this week’s training event did much the same, though with varied sizes from 32 to 40 waist pants, medium to extra-extra large sized t-shirts, and size 9 through 15 work boots.

The lowers of the Exosuit ADS are donned like pants. Pedals in the feet control thrusters on the suit's back.
The lowers of the Exosuit ADS are donned like pants. Pedals in the feet control thrusters on the suit’s back.

The challenge – we all intend to share this Exosuit, and there is little room for adjustment. While I cannot speak to the comparison personally, those with prior experience in the Newtsuit (last generation ADS technology) have said that the Exosuit is far more comfortable and that this comfort alone is a vast improvement. I suppose this is a relative perspective, as with being a rigid metal space, at best, ‘one size fits some’ – certainly not all, and absolutely not all with the same degree of comfort.

The torso is a tight squeeze, though far more roomy than previous generation suits. Pilots are required to place arms in, and remove arms from sleeves to actuate controls within the suit.
I was among the lucky that fit into the suit reasonably well – and after a round of fit testing, and a 10 minute dry run with basic life support controls and emergency procedures – I am especially thankful that I dropped a few pounds this spring – lean and limber seem to be the trick. While I’m sure a degree of comfort comes with time, the consensus was that once locked in to the suit, it indeed takes a degree of effort and contorting to pull your arms out of the sleeves and into the torso such that life support controls can be actuated as needed. In many ways, you are the key to a jigsaw puzzle, and actually trapped inside the puzzle itself.

That word ‘trapped’ also resonates a bit as I listened in on sea stories from more seasoned ADS pilots. With more conventional ‘wet’ diving, the diver has a very different spatial and situational awareness than even here on land, given that the majority of his senses can be acted upon to maneuver in three dimensional space. In an ADS system, it is a somewhat hybridized approach – a true application of human-robot [mechanical] interaction. Given that, the mechanical limitations of the suit affect the pilot’s ability to work through spatial and situational reactivity. In an instance where an ADS pilot was ‘trapped’ in or near an underwater restriction, it would take a more careful approach to solving the problem, and an intimate relationship with the ADS’ maneuverability. A steep learning curve lies ahead, which again, will come with time.

NG Explorer Michael Lombardi fit tests the Exosuit ADS. The Exosuit is a rigid suit keeping the pilot at surface pressure – allowing for very deep dives with no decompression.

Anticipating that the [physical] comfort issue will take some time, I was actually quite surprised at the psychological comfort factor. Despite being locked in to a form-fitting rigid space, I felt right at home. I think all the time spent in the hat (slang for diving helmet used in surface supplied air diving) lent itself well – as there is a certain micro-environment that you find yourself in. That space needs to be managed, and sitting in the Exosuit felt much the same. The life support system is a very basic oxygen rebreather operating here at surface pressure – about as simple as it gets. A chemical absorbant removes carbon dioxide expelled with every exhalation, and the gentle hiss of oxygen entering the cabin space is reassurance that all you have to do is rest, relax… and breathe.

Follow this project here:

Interview with Boyd Matson on NG Weekend Radio:

This Blog mini-series chronicles the author’s journey through depth, time, and space with the latest generation Atmospheric Diving System (ADS) Exosuit, designed and constructed by Dr. Phil Nuytten of Nuytco Research Ltd. in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first production suit is owned and operated by the Diving Division at the J. F. White Contracting Company located in Massachusetts – who has generously reached out to the science community to afford new opportunities for discovery with this technology.


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Meet the Author
Michael is a subaquatic entrepreneur, literary artist, environmental advocate, and explorer who strives to create a body of work to improve humans' personal experience with, and within, the ocean through unique applications and development of diving technology.