Diver propulsion vehicles (DPVs), sometimes known as Underwater Propulsion Vehicles (UPVs), and colloquially known as underwater scooters, have been part of the collective consciousness regarding scuba diving ever since James Bond used one in 1964’s Thunderball. Rather than finning, divers can use these units to zoom through the water at seemingly breakneck speed. Typical recreational divers can cover longer distances during a single dive, or fight a strong current by using a DPV. When it comes to technical cave divers, DPVs are the only way to cover the vast distances that these divers sometimes undertake.
The X2 Underwater Jetpack
Not much has changed in terms of DPV design since the days of James Bond. A typical unit consists of an electrical engine, held by a handle on each side, and a propeller that generates propulsion as the diver is dragged behind. Supermarinovation, a British company, is aiming to change this.
Their new DPV, the X2 Underwater Jetpack, isn’t held by the diver, but rather mounted on their back. The backpack stores the battery, and two cables connect to two units that are mounted on each of the diver’s forearms, which hold the engine and the propellers. This allows the user to work the X2 unit hands-free and generally maintain a profile similar to a diver without a DPV. The two propellers allow for agility that’s unprecedented with most DPVs, enabling sharp turns, barrel rolls and a number of other maneuvers. Top speed is around 6 miles per hour (depending on size and weight of the user), or around 5 knots, an improvement on the 2 to 4 knots that’s typically top speed for civilian DPVs. At 11 pounds, the unit’s weight is manageable as well. A full charge will run for up to 60 minutes of dive time.
The X2 Underwater Jetpack is only available for preorder right now, for around $2,100, so independent tests remain to be conducted. The company does feature a series of pool-test videos on their website.
One obvious disadvantage for divers is the unit’s backpack design, which is incompatible with a scuba tank. The website videos show people wearing the unit over nothing but a bathing suit or wetsuit as they jet through the pool, and if this is an indication that the DPV is intended for freedivers or snorkelers, it could represent a safety risk. If you take a course on how to use DPVs, you’ll learn that since you go quite a bit faster than if under your own propulsion, there’s a risk of straying quite far from your boat, buddies, shore, or all of the above. Even worse is the risk of changing depth too quickly, resulting either in nitrogen narcosis (if descending) or decompression illness (if ascending). These risks exist with this unit as well, but if we assume that the user is freediving, the risk of suddenly finding oneself too deep, too fast and unable to surface before running out of air, is compounded. This could be addressed through training and education, or by re-designing the unit to work with a scuba unit.