By SimonCocking photos taken by press 22, courtesy of University of Limerick
Enjoyable interview with inspiring Irish inventor Cathal Redmond whose invention will hopefully revolutionise scuba diving globally.
Well done on your recent success at the International Dyson Awards
When I found out I was runner-up in the International Competition I was really delighted. It had been a whirlwind journey from completing the project through graduation, moving back to my hometown and starting a new job, so the excitement of coming first in the national competition, followed by the news that I had made it to the final 20 shortlist for the international prize, culminating in the announcement that I had won an international prize was amazing to say the least. Only now, almost three weeks later it’s sinking in just how big a deal it is. I’ve had emails from literally all over the world wishing me success, people wanting to buy it, wanting to help test it, wanting to get involved, its been incredibly positive.
— fusionshooters (@fusionshooters) November 2, 2015
What is your background?
I graduated this summer from University of Limerick, with a First Class honours degree, and before that I tried my hand at Biomedical Engineering in Dublin City University, where I figured out that I preferred the creative aspects of engineering rather than crunching numbers and twiddling knobs! I had a strong background in Design Graphics, (or Technical Graphics as it was called in Ireland when I did my leaving certificate) which along with a keen interest in tinkering with and taking apart things in my house as a child set me up perfectly for a career as a Product Designer. I suppose you could say I’m intensely curious, which drives my discovery process!
What inspired you to develop this solution?
So theres two parts to this story. First I was on holiday in Crete, swimming off the back a glass bottomed boat in a secluded bay, and having recently completed my PADI open water licence in Ireland was enjoying myself immensely. The water off Greece is very different to the water off Dun Laogaire and Mullaghmor, where i had done my training! I spotted a glimmer on the seabed about 8 meters down and my imagination, fuelled by the ancient surroundings and the local mythology began to run wild. Having no scuba gear, which I could have used to reach that depth easily and discover the treasure that lay beneath, I began trying to dive down with just my goggles and a pair of fins, and failing on my first three attempts decided it was make or break and went for it, giving it everything I had. I barely reached the bottom, grabbed whatever it was reflecting the light and hurriedly made my way back to the surface. Gasping, I bobbed at the surface trying to catch my breath, and remembered to inspect the lost artefact in my hand. Turns out it was just an old sardines tin, discarded most likely by one of the glass bottom boat operators making my trip possible. I hadn’t found lost treasure, but I realised I could overcome the water in an exciting new way.
— cathal redmond (@cathalred88) November 2, 2015
Secondly, while researching for my final year project on Enriching the experience of people exploring the underwater environment in Product Design in UL, I tagged along on a training trip with the UL Sub Aqua Club to Clifden in Galway. We lugged tanks, weight belts, boxes of fins, masks, snorkels, booties, wetsuits, gloves, and a petrol generator/compressor in across ditches, puddles, gates, and marshy land to the dive site. What struck me was the sheer amount of gear needed for a big group of people just to get under the water. To top it all off, when the guys had about half of the diving done, they setup the compressor to refill the tanks. The rope on the pull cord for starting the petrol driven compressor snapped, and just like that the diving trip was over, jeopardised by one minor component, not even used in the water. I felt cheated, as if all the planning, hard work done lifting and preparation was wasted. I felt there must be a better experience out there to be developed, and so Express Dive was the solution – refillable, easily portable and lightweight while giving the great experience of breathing under the water.
Are you a diver too?
Yes, I’m a qualified PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, but with one exception: I don’t own any scuba gear. This may actually have helped Express Dive into being. Its often the case that when a solution is available and convenient no innovation is necessary. Express dive was born out of two major driving factors: the gear needed to be smaller and cost less.
I have been lucky enough to dive some really nice sites, mainly in the warmer waters and on holiday. I try find nice local snorkelling spots wherever I go (I always pack my mask and fins if I’m going to be within 100km of the sea!), and so far I’ve been really lucky finding nice fish, rock forms and sometimes submerged human artefact (think parasols, beach gear etc – mundane on the shore but can be interesting when in a submerged context.) My favourite dive so far has been in Greece, where I dived the wreck of a German WW2 Messerschmidt warplane. The wreck itself is in two parts at 27meters, having partially disintegrated when it hit the water having been shot down by Greek Civilians during the German Luftwaffe’s ‘Operation Mercury’ in 1945. Visibility was excellent, conditions pristine and it was seriously one of the best experiences I have had in the water.
How do you see this invention working / integrating with existing SCUBA gear – as something complimentary rather than instead of?
I see Express Dive as expanding the range of options for those who chose to explore the underwater environment, one that combines the portability and ease of use of a snorkel with the great underwater breathing experience of SCUBA. Express Dive isn’t competing with traditional scuba, as they both occupy different solution spaces for users, you can still sue scuba to go deeper for longer, but sometimes going shallow with less proportion demands can be nice too.
It’s a great light weight solution, in which scenarios do you see it being really useful?
I designed the experience to be portable: a one-piece kit that can fit in your backpack, on your kayak, on your bike. I want to take the mental taxation of needing so much dive gear prepared and aligned away from the user, to make it as easy as picking up a snorkel and getting under water! Users will still abide by best dive practices, and most importantly will have to be trained to need hold their breath when ascending – anyone who has taken high school physics will know the effect of depth on air and how risky it is to fill your lungs at depth. Safety is number one for Express Dive.
— cathal redmond (@cathalred88) October 7, 2015
What’s next for the product?
The product now begins the arduous journey through the regulatory branches before going to large-scale manufacturing. You can expect to see Express Dive for sale and at beaches and dive sites by 2017!
— cathal redmond (@cathalred88) April 12, 2015
Do you think there is any scope for innovating with Nitrox and / or re-breather gear also, or any other similar breathing equipment?
While a nitrox/ rebreather system would really extend the time underwater, it requires more equipment and demands more from the user. I wanted to strip scuba down to its bare basics – air in a tank and a mask on your face. everything else is aimed at removing and reducing in size as many parts as possible. While there is definitely scope for innovation in the Nitrox field, it is aimed at an increasingly sophisticated and niche market. I want to appeal to the larger audience, to get people trying compressed air diving in a really accessible way – all the while under the supervision of a qualified safety expert.
Anything you’d like to add / we should have asked you?
I ‘think so! I’d just like to say thanks for covering the story!