All posts by Lucy Ingham

Oceanic research steps into the future as sci-fi vessel SeaOrbiter gets funding

The world’s most futuristic-looking research vessel could soon be setting sail after it met its crowdfunding goal of €325,000.

Designed by marine architect Jacques Rougerie, SeaOrbiter will drift with oceanic currents to explore areas of the ocean that have never been studied before.

SeaOrbiter is designed to address the shortage of ocean research that has been undertaken. 90% of the ocean is still unexplored, and it is estimated that two thirds of marine species are yet to be discovered.

Looking like a moveable version of the Operation Hennessey Underwater SeaLab from the film the Life Aquatic, the vessel features a vertical wind turbine and solar panels to generate power; an 18.5m high lookout post; a diving room and wet lab; a modular laboratory, medical and fitness areas; underwater bunks and pressurised living quarters and a variety of underwater dive pits.

SeaOrbiter is also kitted out with a range of support vessels and subsea exploration devices, including a diving drone capable of exploring the oceanic abyss at depths up to 6,000m – far deeper than it is possible for humans to travel.

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First and foremost, SeaOrbiter is a research vessel with the capability to gather and analyse data. However, it will also serve as a multimedia communications platform, churning out educational programming that has been entirely shot and edited onboard. And that’s not all: the pressurised living areas also enable SeaOrbiter to function as a space simulator.

The vessel is uniquely able to house a crew of 18 – 22 people to live onboard for long periods of time in remote areas of the ocean. Typically expeditions would last for three to six months, although the crew could remain onboard for much longer if required.

The crew would be made up of six ship operators, four scientific researchers, two multimedia operators and six ‘aquanauts’ developing research programmes.  But they won’t just be adrift and unsupported – a shore-based team will remain in constant touch to collect data and ensure everything goes smoothly.

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In a sense, SeaObiter has been more than forty years in the making. The vessel’s designer and champion Jacques Rougerie has a long-standing background in marine design, and has been developing undersea structures for decades.

His 1973 project with NASA to develop an underwater research village has been instrumental in our view of undersea living, and he has produced several landmark vessels for oceanographic exploration. Rougerie seems to have been working towards SeaOrbiter for most of his career, but only now has the technology come of age.

The project was funded through French crowdfunding website Kiss Kiss Bank Bank, with 664 people handing over between €10 and €40,000+ to raise a total of €344,650. In a video uploaded to the SeaOrbiter website, Rougerie thanked his supporters. He said: “We registered more than 600 contributors, including 20 big donors and one family who highly contributed to it”.

Now SeaOrbiter has received funding the challenge of building it can start. Rougerie expects construction to take two years, so by 2016 we could be following the launch of this remarkable vessel.


Images courtesy of SeaOrbiter.


Stretchable electronics let you look like a futuristic superhero in this wearable tech jacket

Technology and fashion have moved a little closer together with the launch of a responsive LED jacket with an integrated soft, stretchable electronic system.

Dubbed Sporty Supaheroe, the jacket has been developed by Austrian wearable tech startup Utope.

Described by the company as a “high-tech jacket for the urban nomad”, Sporty Supaheroe features a soft panel of electronics that contain LEDs, sensors and microcontrollers, as well as a rechargeable battery and the typical on/off switch.

The jacket’s electronics are based on something pretty revolutionary for wearable tech: a stretchable circuit board.

Ordinarily tech is based on printed circuit boards (PCBs) that are rigid and lumpy, resulting in large hard lumps in the wearable that have to be hidden with pockets or clever tailoring.

But Utope – in collaboration with microelectronic heavyweight Fraunhofer IZM – has designed it so that only individual electronic components in the system are hard: the connections between them are soft and flexible. And even the components have been reduced in size, with an ultrathin switch, tiny but bright LED lights and a controller board the size of a €2 coin (or a US quarter).

Developed with white LEDs along the front of the jacket and red LEDs along the back, Sporty Supaheroe is designed to increase your visibility at night, and is particularly useful for cyclists, runners and pedestrians.

The jacket even comes with sensors to enable it to react to body movement and direction changes. But unlike other visibility wear employed by late-night travellers, Sporty Supaheroe wouldn’t look out of place in a bar or nightclub.

Not only is the jacket designed to boost your safety by making you more visible to traffic at night, but Utope has spent a lot of time ensuring that it is safe in itself. Short circuits and overheating are prevented through the use of a smart fuse and reverse polarity protection, and all electronics are embedded into a flame-resistant non-woven material.

This also means that the electronics are protected from moisture – normally a potential problem for wearable tech- and the system has built-in resistance to electrostatic charges from the textiles.

Utope is looking to take the jacket into mass production, and has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $69,000 needed for an initial manufacturing run.

But with an eyewatering retail price of €1,500 ($2,000), this is hardly wearable tech for the masses. The company says that the high price is largely down to the stretchable circuit board, which is why Utope started with premium sportswear to get its product out there.

Given time, we could be seeing this sort of tech in high street fashion, as Utope believes that with demand rising production costs could fall considerably.


Images courtesy of Utope. Via the Sporty Supaheroe Indiegogo page.