Remember that nutso Exosuit — basically a wearable submarine — we showed you back in February? The Exosuit is about to embark on its first real mission: the hunt for one of the world’s oldest computers in the Aegean Sea. It’s a quest that has paralysed and, in one case, even killed divers in the past, but the Exosuit will let humans safely dive deeper and longer than ever before.
The Exosuit was originally for the more humble purpose of diving in the murky depths of New York’s wastewater treatment plans. But now it’s part of an audacious plan to excavate a Roman shipwreck that once yielded the Antikythera mechanism, the world’s oldest computer. When an Exosuitted diver descends 120 metres underwater in September, New Scientist reports, archaeologists are hoping to find a second such computer.
Now if you’re me, you’re probably thinking the suit looks rather ungainly, especially if you’re handling delicate, millenia-old artifacts. Pedals inside the suit control thrusters that move the diver through water, but the articulated joints do let each arm and leg move separately. Instead of hands, divers handle objects through chopstick-like claws, as described by New Scientist.
Archaeologists will use the Exosuit’s manipulators — a claw-like pincer where each of the suit’s hands would be — to sift through silt, marine life and centuries of debris. “It’s like chopsticks,” [a diving specialist] said during trials at WHOI this month. “The first time you use them, you get covered in food. Then you start to get proficient. One drill we’ve been doing is to use one set of manipulators to open a folding knife attached to the other, then lock it and close it. I managed it twice yesterday.”
Given all the technology behind the Exosuit, it’s rather extraordinary to think that the Antikythera mechanism was discovered with primitive diving equipment in 1900. Because of the pressures at depths of 120 metres, divers could only spend five minutes on the seabed. Several were paralysed and one died. Over a hundred years later, we may finally be able to thoroughly explore this shipwreck — safely this time, we hope. [New Scientist]