Introduction

A proposed international power grid is planned to connect multiple renewable energy sources across Europe. The UK’s largest contribution to this will be from offshore wind power generation. Installing and linking wind farms to the grid will require extensive underwater engineering, much by skilled divers and deep sea welders. There are numerous dangers associated with carrying out engineering work under high pressure and low temperatures. These risks include hypothermia, oxygen toxicity, decompression illness, nitrogen narcosis and possible damage to the skeleton, muscles and brain.

In order to protect divers and fulfil health and safety obligations, it would be advantageous to be able to monitor divers’ health whilst they are deep underwater. It recently became possible to observe the health of medical patients, without the need for them to set foot in a hospital. In 2011 a pilot scheme was set up in 6000 homes in the UK. Patients with heart problems, lung disease, arthritis, and high blood pressure were monitored, without the need to visit a hospital. This scheme has shown promising results so far, with both health and financial advantages[1].

As remote healthcare can monitor a number of patients at a time, other industries are looking to utilize this to safeguard their employees and the company itself. This project looks to develop a novel application for this technology in areas where noticing early changes in a person’s health and performance can be lifesaving.

Task

Your company has been commissioned to design a remote sensing system to monitor the health of deep sea divers. You must submit plans for a prototype device and information on how it is fit for purpose in the harsh underwater environment.

You have been informed that several other technology companies are working on this same brief. In your presentation you must pitch your ideas to the clients and explain how the capabilities of your device exceed those of any technology already available. You should also demonstrate that you have thought about other potential designs and the rationale for your choice of final design with reference to reliability, feasibility and cost requirements.

Considerations

Decompression Illness (DCI) is a life-threatening condition which affects divers who ascend too rapidly after spending a prolonged time deep underwater. DCI is caused by inadequate elimination of gases such as nitrogen, and increasingly helium that is added to dilute oxygen in breathing gas tanks.

You may want to think about the most appropriate health indicators for your device to monitor[2]. Will you rely on basic indicators, human monitoring or program an autonomous system to detect abnormalities in the diver’s condition and alert the support vessel or an on-shore emergency response team? Will it be possible to distinguish signs of distress as opposed to minor changes in the diver’s physical health indicators? Will it be possible to calibrate the device for each diver?

Usually professional divers work with a direct line connecting them to the surface, providing air supply and hot water to keep them warm. A wireless solution would potentially have wider applicability and be able to be retrofitted easily. However, you should consider limitations of wireless communications in deep water.

You should select materials that are appropriate to protect the device in the deep ocean environment. What is used in similar submarine environments?

Gathering information about activity far below the ocean’s surface may be problematic, you may need to think about how to transmit and process data from your device as the bandwidth is limited. Would it be better for the data to be processed in a centralized or a distributed manner?

The lives of your client’s employees depend on this technology, and it needs to be failsafe. To demonstrate this, you should carry out a safety assessment of your design and think about possible limitations and safety back-ups to ensure reliability.