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The Platypus: Underwater vehicle creator thinks outside the bubble

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November 19, 2013

The Platypus prototype takes passengers beneath the waves

The Platypus prototype takes passengers beneath the waves

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Vehicles such as the EGO semi-submarine boat and Adventure-Doo are designed to bring the underwater action within reach of those without the time or inclination to put in the training required to get behind the controls of personal submarines like the offerings from U-boat Worx. But the Platypus underwater exploration vehicle from François-Alexandre Bertrand ditches the waterproof hull while giving users a taste of life beneath the waves. We first looked at the Platypus in concept form in 2011 and a prototype has now hit the water as it navigates the often-treacherous waters to commercial availability.

"The submersible has existed for a long time, but with a big bubble," Bertrand tells Gizmag. "We're the first to offer an up position in order to navigate like a boat, and a submerged position where you are under the water to navigate – totally free, wearing just a swimsuit."

The Platypus is basically a catamaran with a central platform that the passengers straddle. Two pivoting arms connect the two hulls to the platform, which can be hydraulically lowered under the water. In this way, the users can cruise around above and, with the aid of an in-built air compressor supplying oxygen, below the water's surface.

The Platypus prototype is put through its paces

Measuring 5.7 m (18.7 ft) wide, 2.46 m (8 ft) wide and weighing 720 kg, the prototype is propelled through the water by two Torqeedo electric motors powered by a 10 kW lithium-ion battery pack. With the passengers above the water, it boasts a range of up to 30 nautical miles (34.5 miles/55.5 km) when traveling at an average speed of 5 knots (5 mph/9 km/h), but can reach speeds of up to 10 knots. This drops to less than half when the passengers are below the water, with the battery lasting for around four hours with a standard mix of surface and diving modes.

However, the company also plans to produce a model powered by two 9.9 hp Mercury engines that will give the craft a surface mode speed of up to 14 knots (16 mph/26 km/h) and greater range. In surface navigation mode, the central nacelle sits about 50 cm (20 in) above the surface of the water, which Bertrand told us "gives the impression of flying over the water." In dive mode, the passengers are about 2 m (6.5 ft) below the surface.

After the first underwater tests at the Bassins à Flot in Merignac in Bordeaux earlier this year, where Platypus Project Manager Rachida Ettarfaoui came face to face with a dead rat, prototype testing moved to the much more inviting coastal waters of St Tropez in September. "It was the first time we could use the Platypus in the kind of environment it was designed for," says Bertrand.

An early prototype had the air intake placed inside the floats, however, during testing the team found that the air fed to the submerged passengers had the less-than-desirable smell of hydraulic oil. For this reason, the final prototype version pumps air to the passengers from outside the craft using an electric air compressor.

The current prototype can reach speeds of up to 10 knots in surface navigation mode

Bertrand told us the production version will also offer a 20 m (65 ft) extension air tube as an optional extra that can be attached to the onboard air supply to give passengers the freedom to get off their seat and swim away from the craft. There are also plans to include space under the seats to stow air tanks for passengers who crave greater freedom. For the even more adventurous or for research purposes, there are plans to offer a shark cage as an optional extra.

"We are still designing the final version, that is going to be quite different from the prototype you see today," says Bertrand. "Firstly, we are going to have a rear platform, as you can see it's only a catamaran today, as we noticed it was an issue that you don't have the space in order to work on the Platypus. With today's shark cages, you cannot move out and say hello to the sharks, it's not very secure. So with the final version, we are going to be able to integrate a deploying cage into the mechanism, as an option. We propose a mobile shark cage, between the four hydraulic arms holding the nacelle, we are going to have smaller arms for the cage." Bertrand says the plans for the shark cage should be completed early next year.

The current prototype is pre-homologated as a category C boat for use in areas close to shore, with Bertrand saying the final version will be CE homologated. France-based naval architect firm Van Peteghem Lauriot-Prévost (VPLP) is helping to finalize the Platypus design and French entrepreneur and businessman Xavier Niel is on board as the project's main investor. However, the Platypus team is about to embark on another round of fundraising to get the vehicle over the line and into production.

Bertrand hopes to have the first units due for a release around March/April of 2014 and the company plans to take pre-orders before the end of this year with potential buyers required to put down a deposit of €5,000 (US$6,750) for a "Classic" Platypus. The company is aiming for minimum starting prices of €42,000 (US$56,700) for the ICE-engine powered model and €50,000 (US$67,500) for the electric version.

The Platypus prototype can be seen being put through its paces in the following video.

Source: Platypus

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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10 Comments

It reminds me of an updated version of a vehicle that one can buy plans for from RQRiley. http://www.rqriley.com The at RQRiley is enclosed and gets fresh air from the surface from one of the pontoons that stay on the surface and used air is expelled via the other surface pontoon. It is electric powered. It has emergency ballast that can be dropped in case one needs to get to the surface.

BigWarpGuy
19th November, 2013 @ 05:35 am PST

This is an interesting concept and it could be a lot of fun to use.

Two key points would concern me, however:

1) Unprotected propellers could be very dangerous to divers and indeed to the crew themselves if one were to to become dislodged from the craft.

2) I would worry about a craft controlled solely from underwater with no controller or 'lookout' above water. Distracted divers could crash the craft into other surface objects (including swimmers). Also they would be unaware of any other approaching dangers at the surface. (e.g. a jetski)

Perhaps if these points were addressed the Platypus could soon attract a big following.

Alien
19th November, 2013 @ 08:47 am PST

Hi Alien

the craft in this article is the prototype: we will announce soon the final version that will be equipped automatically with a 360° vision system from underwater and protected propellers

We do not want to take any risk regarding safety of passengers and drivers !

Thanks for your interest

FAB

Platypus Craft
19th November, 2013 @ 10:53 am PST

Like the idea - places that have calm-water coral reefs would buy dozens for gentle underwater viewing platforms, without disturbing the reefs. I hope they have some sort of "early warning system" to avoid running out of air compressor power / fuel.

The Skud
19th November, 2013 @ 05:27 pm PST

Hi "The Skud"

yes the air compressor as the hydraulic system is running on electric energy. The batteries for these systems are AGM type, the most reliable one, and a warning system (just a waterproof led) is indicating on the nacelle low level battery. Also the air compressor is equipped with an air reserve used on many hookah systems to more the breathing more comfortable and for safety reasons: we used this model in order to avoid any issue.

Platypus Craft
20th November, 2013 @ 04:05 am PST

The heads of the divers seem to be about 1m under the water. Why not just have a glass bottomed boat? A central narrow section of the boat could project say 1.5m downwards with windows in the sides. You don't even need to get wet! No problem with air supply.

If you really want to be in the water, why not get towed behind the boat on a rope whilst holding a hydroplane to control depth?

windykites1
20th November, 2013 @ 05:58 am PST

This thing will not have much of a shelf life considering once our oceans are lifeless due to overfishing, agriculture runoff dead zones, plastic gyres, coral bleaching and Global Warming caused acidification there will be little to see underwater.

Nelson Hyde Chick
20th November, 2013 @ 11:24 am PST

Mass produce, awesome, must for worldwide

Stephen N Russell
20th November, 2013 @ 04:44 pm PST

I'm a diver and I love powered flight, this is cool idea, might be used in conservation.

Jay Finke
21st November, 2013 @ 07:37 am PST

I beg to differ about this being the first such craft. In Ft. Lauderdale in the late 1950s a small shop built a sub by slicing the top off of a torpedo and installing seats one behind the other. The vehicle occupants used scuba for their air supply but a Hooka rig could have easily been used as well. The hand built units had the advantage in that they could go deep as well as shallow. I think they were battery powered. The builder wanted about $2,000 at the time and back then that was a lot of money.

Jim Sadler
9th December, 2013 @ 08:43 pm PST
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