width=100%
Computer AquaPilot GF

WHEN I TRIED TO EXPLAIN to my Spanish friend that my German autobahn-gulper had an automatic gearbox, I was met with incredulity. Why would you want one if you knew how to drive a car American friends would be just as incredulous at his response, for the opposite reason.
Similarly, why would anyone who knew how to dive want an AquaPilot Could it be that one day others will find it incredible that any diver ever managed without one
The AquaPilot GF is intended to take control of your buoyancy - automatically. Its the worlds first air-integrated deco-computer, combined with an automatic buoyancy controller.
The deco computer seems straightforward. It has a nice graphic of a tank which you can watch emptying, and I would put money on it using a Buhlmann ZH-L16 algorithm. The display has an annoying flicker, like a fluorescent light thats about to go out, but the main interest here is in the buoyancy control aspect.
I was glad of the 10-hour flight to my diving destination. It gave me time to get to grips with the instruction manual, although for something meant to simplify buoyancy control, it gave me a headache. I didnt understand everything until I got the unit under water, and by that point I naturally didnt have the book.
Before you dive, you program in a maximum depth allowable (manufacturers maximum 40m) and it will positively not allow you to go deeper, even if you want to change your plan mid-dive or are just plain inattentive. You determine electronically where in the water column you want to be, using position mode. You enter on the display your chosen maximum depth and, having pressed the down button, it automatically stops you at that depth by putting air in your BC at the right moment and in the right amount.
I first tried it set at 18m and managed to swim down to 22m before I was sent back, bobbing like a cork, to that depth.
When you want to ascend to a shallower depth, you enter that figure and it puts air in your BC and raises you at the required safe ascent rate of less than 15m/min until you get there. It effectively turns your BC into a pneumatic elevator.
You can ignore the programming and just use the up and down buttons. Thats called speed mode. I found I had to be careful not to help it by finning up, because that can get it all confused. In the same way, you must breathe in a normal and relaxed way. Erratically changing lung volumes seems to put it equally in disarray, especially at less than 6m.
You must stay passive and let the BC do the work, controlled by the information from the handset and the parameters you set.
The AquaPilot GF takes the form of a solenoid-triggered inflation valve and a similarly operated dump-valve that replaces the right shoulder dump-valve of your BC. You need the appropriate adapter. The valves are controlled by a rather large computer-operated handset that doubles as the air-integrated decompression computer.
There is of course a manual dump on your BC that can be worked in combination with the normal direct-feed control in case things go pear-shaped during the dive, and a rip-cord will help you jettison the unit should the solenoid stick with the valve open.
Two hoses connect to medium- and high-pressure ports on your regulator. Besides the air-integrated decompression computer, the unit uses high-pressure air fed to pneumatics activated by the electronic controller. Medium-pressure air is fed into the BC, in this case a pleasing Mares Synchro Power wing.
The AquaPilot GF is designed for use with a wetsuit. The British importer tried to kid me that it worked equally well with a drysuit, provided it had an auto-dump. But if you use a drysuit correctly you will never need to put air in your BC.
If you are neutrally buoyant at the surface in your drysuit and rig, you will need only to add air to make up for volume lost through the compression of that air in your suit as you go deeper. Your BC is merely there to hold your tank on your back and offer double redundancy in case your drysuit malfunctions. I really cannot see a sensible use for the AquaPilot in this instance, but Im sure the importer will disagree.
He was also keen to point out that this device was for all divers, and although it has obvious applications for those with certain disabilities, he is determined to market it to the wider audience. After all, as he says, cars with automatic gearboxes are not just for disabled drivers.
Now Im not sure this car analogy holds up. With auto transmission you just point the car and press the hot pedal. With the AquaPilot GF you have to keep entering in the depths you want to reach. Thats all very well for UK square-profile dives, but you wont catch many divers with cash to spend doing these chilly dives in a wetsuit.
My wetsuit diving involves multiple levels. It requires a lot of intermediate depths set between my deepest point and the surface. The AquaPilot is less than automatic in this case.
Have you noticed that the most expensive sports cars are driven by elderly people Thats because it takes time to make money. And so it will be, I can assure you, with the AquaPilot. It will be those whose children have grown up and who, their mortgages paid off, can afford to lash out on such capriciously expensive ideas.
That brings another problem. There are two types of people over 40, those who wear glasses and those who dont read. I can work the direct-feed hose and dump-valve of my BC with my eyes shut, and often have to. Its a very different business when I have to set figures on an LCD display. Quite frankly, my eyesight went bad when my assets came good, and here the display figures are not that big.
Another thing: scuba-divers dont take to innovation readily. I would like to think I have supported all the innovations over the years that have proved worthy but I am never shy to slaughter a product that I consider does not work properly.
The AquaPilot GF works perfectly and delivers everything it promises. But it is a complex and necessarily expensive item of kit designed to replace something we are already have, our eyes and our ears - and we still need our eyes to use it.
At close to a grand, this will remain mainly the province of a few gadget-collectors and those determined to spend more money on their diving equipment than anyone else.
It worked amazingly well, but I bothered with it only for a couple of dives before the novelty wore off. If you have problems with buoyancy control, you would be better off spending a fraction of the cost on learning buoyancy skills from a good instructor.
The AquaPilot GF costs £980 including charger and PC software.

  • NJP Marine Technical Services 01287 203046
  • Divernet Divernet
    width=100%
    + A triumph of technical innovation


    width=100%
    - Complicated to master out of water
    - More expensive than getting lessons in buoyancy-control
    - Not suitable with a drysuit