Omer Arad is a student and scuba diver. On an otherwise-routine dive at 80 feet, his regulator suddenly stopped working. He tried signaling his buddy, who was too far away to notice. This is how many scuba-diving horror stories begin. Often they conclude with the diver surfacing rapidly, risking decompression illness in the process.
As divers, our buddies are our ultimate backup plan. They provide us air if necessary, help us slow down on an emergency ascent, and help with fixable problems. But we all know that buddy pairs don’t always stay within reach of each other. We also don’t pay as much attention as we should, as in Arad’s case. And a serious problem paired with an absent buddy is a recipe for panic. This is one of the most dangerous issues we can face underwater.
The BLU Diving Safety Bracelet
Fortunately, Arad survived his out-of-gas situation. He turned a potential tragedy into inspiration. His ordeal was the basis for his work on a solution should he, or any other diver, face such a situation. He invented the BLU, essentially a diver “panic bracelet.” Presented at Israel’s technical university Technion during its 3-Day Startup event, the BLU took first place among juried concepts, presented by participants from around the world.
A small, streamlined bracelet, the BLU comes in pairs of two, one for each diver in a buddy team. If one diver gets into trouble and needs to signal his or her buddy, they simply push the large button on top of the bracelet. The other bracelet will then alert its wearer with a flashing light and vibration. In this way, the buddy is alerted more effectively than trying to make noise or using a tank banger.
As the BLU diving safety bracelet is still only a concept, not much is available in terms of how its technology will work, including which transmitting type it utilizes, and, related to that, its range. Many gadgets similar to the BLU, such as FitBit or Jawbone fitness trackers, use Bluetooth. Range limits underwater have thus far hampered their usefulness. In air, Bluetooth is typically limited to about 30 feet, but in much-denser water, that range is far reduced.
Is it useful?
And while the BLU is a potentially very useful way to get your buddy’s attention, it won’t negate good buddy practices. The BLU can alert me to a buddy’s trouble. But if I’m 50 feet away, I probably won’t make it in time to help, if I can even find him or her. And of course, a wireless-alert system won’t do much good if a buddy pair swims outside of its transmission range. But, as an added layer of safety on top of good, safe diving and buddy practices, the BLU diving safety bracelet has promise.
Omer Arad, a student at Technion, and fellow students Aviv Tahar and Oz Meir developed the BLU. Manik Arora and Bernadette Che from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Orit Dolev, a graduate of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan also contributed.