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.


Why your mobile phone will never run out of battery again

Mobile phones and gadgets running out of battery life halfway through the day is one of the smartphone age’s biggest frustrations, but soon we will be able to charge our devices using natural light.

Watching movies, playing games and frantically refreshing emails have made our gadgets battery-intensive, leading to many people carrying spare charging cables and extra batteries.

Now two companies have created an ultra-thin transparent layer that can be embedded into electronic displays to power-up the phone and make charging routines a thing of the past.

The technology will effectively turn any surface on a mobile device into a solar panel – which will allow charging in natural or artificial light.

Three unnamed, but leading, device manufacturers are said to be working with the technology and are set to sign licences to use it at some point during in the first half of this year.

3M, who were formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, and French solar technology company SunPartner Technologies teamed up to create Wysips Crystal – an acronym which they say stands for ‘What you see is photovoltaic surface’.

The crystal surface is bonded to devices using 3M’s adhesives that are precision manufactured to eliminate common problems such as bubbling, which can distort the display, and are designed to work with existing materials and screen technologies.

The continuous charge is hoped to make devices always ready-to-use whether indoors or outdoors and eliminate the need to charge devices from a physical power source. This will not only help to preserve natural resources but also make the excuse of not answering phone calls due to a drained mobile phone battery non-existent.

Vice president and general manager of 3M’s Electronics Markets Materials Division, Herve Gindre, said: “It is exciting to see both an innovative and sustainable solution for this industry.

“We are thrilled to leverage our technical materials expertise, along with SunPartner’s unique solutions, to enable key customers worldwide to bring new and exciting possibilities to the next generation of electronic devices. This team effort aligns well with 3M’s commitment to collaborative innovation, sustainability, and improving business and people’s lives.”

While it has been around and tested for some years, experts have predicted that 2014 will see wireless charging really cut the cord and become used in the mainstream markets. Qi wireless charging is currently included with more than 60 different phones and at least 40m of them have been sold so far.

Where 3M and SunPartner Technologies’ product will be ahead of pre-existing wireless charging methods is that it will not need to be placed on a pad, or specific area to provide power, making wireless charging not dependent on a traditional power source.

Ludovic Deblois, president and co-founder, SunPartner Technologie said: “We see strong synergies to serve our customers in consumer electronics markets with the help of 3M as a trusted partner and expert in materials excellence.”