Keeping James Cameron happy...21-May-2012
How do you keep James Cameron happy for eight hours in a one metre diameter steel sphere...eleven thousand metres underwater?
For many this may sound like an impossible challenge – but it didn’t
stop the D+I design team. D+I love a tough design brief and we took
it on with great enthusiasm.
D+I were selected by James Cameron and Ron Allum of the Acheron Project as the preferred Australian industrial design team to develop the cockpit layout for the Deepsea Challenger’s record dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The Mariana Trench is 10,924 metres straight down and is deeper than Mount Everest is high. With such tremendous depths and extreme pressure conditions it all came down to risk and how we could minimise these critical factors to keep the pilot safe and well equipped to drive the sub.
We undertook research and exploratory assignments by firstly listening to the pilots and uncovering every process and anticipated need they required for the record dive. We then set about investigating and questioning the specialist engineers at Acheron Project to be clear on the critical risks involved with such an extreme dive. There were so many complex variables and constraints to work with, any fires and the pilot can’t breathe or see, too much weight would compromise the sub’s finely tuned buoyancy, any moisture build up would cause critical systems to fail and excessive fatigue and discomfort would affect the pilot’s ability to control the dive.
With the necessary groundwork and research completed we could then build up a clear picture of the systems architecture and requirements. These requirements were fed into a series of concept development activities with key D+I technical designers working directly with the pilots Cameron and Allum and the Acheron engineering team. Through these brainstorming and development sessions a number of detailed spatial mock-ups were modelled within a purpose built simulator of the steel Life Support Sphere in the D+I Balmain studio.
Hours were spent with Cameron and the team moving foam models of hardware around the simulator, updating seat designs, throwing ideas out, trying innovative new ones. The process involved pins and needles, bumped heads and sore backs. These invaluable mock-up sessions allowed us to follow the pilot through the dive – we were able focus on ergonomics and look at hatch entry/exit techniques, how we could launch the sub with the pilot on his back and then change their orientation during the sub’s descent, what activities they’d run through during the dive, and how they’d then ascend. We took hours and hours of video, took literally thousands of photos and constantly reworked our ideas until a solid design solution began to form.
Above: Foam model mock-up
The highly innovative solution was a phenolic-resin, carbon-fibre internal Shell – light weight, strong and totally fire proof. Developed with local manufacturers, the spherical Shell was designed to float within the steel Sphere but still provide structure for internal equipment and pilot support. Using sprung mechanisms, the Shell would dynamically contract and expand with the Sphere as it changed size under the enormous ocean pressures. The Shell was comprised of a series of rails and inlaid panels, designed to be passed through the tiny 43cm access hatch then be installed by a technician within the Sphere.
Above: Carbon fibre internal shell
Key interior details solved a multitude of identified problems - grab handles to aid pilot movement and pilot egress, quick release mountings for items such as joysticks, a series of gutters to direct condensation away from the equipment, a hand pump system that removed water from the base of the sphere and a system of carbon fibre & thin stainless steel hardware enclosures, mounted directly to the Shell. The final seating assembly featured a small, lightweight base set at maximum height – designed to maximise leg space and keep the hips and knees at 90 degrees.
Cameron’s now record setting dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench was the culmination of intense development between James Cameron, Ron Allum, Acheron Project and the D+I design team – a historic achievement Design + Industry are very proud to have played a key role in.
Above: Cockpit interior