Developing Underwater Cases for Discovery
Staring down thousands of miles removed from the ground, the Earth strikes a fascinating contrast against its surroundings. Unlike the void blackness that stitches time and space, the Earth’s nurturing blues and whites speak of a place that is apart from anything else in our solar system.
Today, humans live on all seven of the world’s continents and make passages across those same blue oceans, both vast and bounded. But beneath the surface of the sea lies an uncanny world yet to be explored. To be sure, in the centuries that humans have been sailing the seas we’ve discovered schools of flora and fauna that have amazed and terrified us, but the simple fact remains that much of the ocean is unexplored. In fact, the depth of human ignorance about the ocean is so great that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States, “to date, we have explored less than five percent of the ocean.”
The Bathyscaphe Trieste, one of four crafts to reach the Mariana Trench. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
But the ocean’s mysteries are slowly beginning to reveal themselves. Progress in exploring the aqueous depths is proceeding slowly, but because of modern communication and good design, the ocean is revealing itself to us evermore thanks in part to the ubiquity of cameras on our beaches and under our ocean’s waves.
Bringing Eyes to the Deep
Steve Ogles has been fascinated by making underwater exploration and documentation easier for years. In 1995, Ogles bound this fascination to a small group of engineers and started a company whose goal was to build the highest quality underwater enclosures for professional photographers and cinematographers. Named Watershot, the company began its life as what Ogles would describe as a job shop.
A Watershot underwater video camera rig. (Image courtesy of Watershot.)
“Initially, we were more of a job shop—designing, machining, and assembling waterproof enclosures for professional filmmakers,” Ogles explained. But while the short-run specialized market for underwater housings was lucrative, Steve and his team started to notice a trend.
The world of photography was changing.
People around the planet, not just professional photographers, were starting to carry around 12-megapixel cameras everywhere they went. With cameras embedded into every smartphone, photography was becoming more accessible and popular than ever. Watershot recognized that people would soon want to bring their cameras into the water to capture and share their own underwater explorations.
To start their new venture into the world of mass-market products, Watershot’s engineers turned to a design tool that they were familiar with: SOLIDWORKS. With its easy-to-use modeling tools, Watershot’s engineers were able to rapidly design new underwater housings that would fit their ideal modern camera, the iPhone. In addition, by using SOLIDWORKS’ simulation tools, Watershot’s engineers have been able to iterate through designs quickly and catch potentially costly design flaws before the expense of tooling begins to eat into the bottom line.
Take, for example, Watershot’s iPhone 4 enclosure.
The Watershot iPhone 4 underwater housing. (Image courtesy of Watershot.)
During the enclosures development, engineers using SOLIDWORKS design analysis tools began inspecting the case’s tooling. As the team began to push the case through simulated atmospheres of water, a major error was discovered. In that design, as the pressure on the case continued to mount, a warping in the enclosure forced the case to come into contact with the iPhone’s screen. Because of this unintentional “touch,” all of the phone’s functions, including taking photos or videos, were rendered useless. Because Watershot’s team was able to observe this deflection problem before tooling began, the project was able to stay on budget.
“We are a small, growing company with limited resources,” said project engineer Stephanie Griffin Peña. “SOLIDWORKS Simulation allows us to understand the influence of underwater pressure and forces during design, which saves time and money.”
Today, Watershot’s engineers have developed a wide array of underwater housing for the iPhone with the aim of bringing more and more cameras into the water so that people can document their own journeys in the ocean. Watershot is also looking to push the boundaries of high-end camera enclosures, working with the likes of camera giant ARRI to build sophisticated carbon fiber underwater rigs for large cinematic productions.
Humans aren’t built to explore alien realms. We were constructed for life here on the surface of Earth. But our curiosity has always gotten the better of us—and we’ve engineered solutions that can deliver us to our fantasies, sate our curiosity and provide for our need to capture and share what we discover.
About the Author
Kyle Maxey is a mechanical designer and writer from Austin, TX. He earned a degree in Film at Bard College and has since studied Mechanical and Architectural drafting at Austin Community College. As a designer Kyle has had vast experience with CAD software and rapid prototyping. One day he dreams of becoming a toy designer.