An underwater tent co-invented by a University of Arizona professor will be featured during the Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week this month.
Dubbed the Ocean Space Habitat, the portable inflatable tent allows occupants to essentially camp out underwater. Co-invented by UArizona professor Winslow Burleson and professional diver Michael Lombardi, the tent will be featured in the episode “The Great Hammerhead Stakeout,” which airs July 18 on Discovery+.
Burleson is a professor and director of research for the School of Information in the UArizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and has a joint appointment in the university’s Health Sciences Design Program. Burleson, who is also a member of the university’s BIO5 Institute, helped develop the technology for the tent when he was a professor at New York University.
Research and development efforts for the Ocean Space Habitat are ongoing at Lombardi Undersea LLC, in cooperation with multiple academic and industry partners, including the University of Arizona, New York University, University of Connecticut, the City University of Hong Kong and Subsalve USA.
“(The University of Arizona’s) Ocean Space Habit research collaborations are expanding what is possible and feasible in a broad range of underwater environments, ranging from coral reefs studies and novel fisheries to human robot collaborative teams and planetary analogue missions,” Burleson said. “Airing first-of-its-kind hammerhead research on Shark Week is certainly one of the highlights to date.”
The tent provides a relatively dry and protected space underwater for divers to enter, remove their equipment and carry out tasks before returning to the surface. The high-tech habitat provides a place for deep sea divers to decompress after deep scientific dives and for medical treatments to be administered for decompression sickness in remote locations. It also gives divers the ability to engage in long-term observations of wildlife behavior and to conduct science experiments before surfacing. The tent system is highly portable and can provide adequate life support to two occupants through an overnight stay.
Multiple experimental deployments of the tent have occurred since 2011, and the platform is now emerging as a viable scientific tool.
“The underwater value is analogous to a backpacking excursion – we certainly learn more from an overnight in the environment than a short walk in the park. That step has not yet been taken in the underwater world in an affordable and accessible way for the masses,” Lombardi said.
Burleson is a social inventor with expertise in human computer interaction and the learning sciences. He previously served as principal investigator for the NSF Experiential Supercomputing: A Transdisciplinary Research and Innovation Holodeck grant. He has authored more than 100 scholarly articles, holds 11 patents and twice received Time magazine’s Top Inventions of the Year Awards.