Codi Clark, Andrew Waldron, Garrett Sabesky, Jeffrey Catterlin, Emil P. Kartalov
Hypothermia is a major hazard during long exposure in cold water and can lead to unconsciousness, organ damage, and eventually death. Cold water divers typically wear bubbled neoprene wetsuits to protect themselves from these harsh conditions. However, wetsuits have their limitations. Air bubbles within the neoprene shrink with depth under the increasing ambient pressure, which degrades the suit’s thermal protection. Thicker neoprene is warmer but is less flexible and fatigues the diver faster. To solve this problem, we developed and reported on the K1 suit. K1 featured composite plates fitted to non-bending areas of the body. The composite was made of hollow glass microspheres embedded in thermally cured silicone cast in 3D-printed molds designed from 3D scans of the diver’s body. The K1 combined the ergonomics of a 3 mm suit with thermal protection superior to a 7 mm suit. Next, adding a further layer of composite (made of ceramic microspheres embedded in silicone) produced the K2 suit. The K2 featured even better thermal protection with the same high flexibility and contributed neutral buoyancy. However, both K1 and K2 were based on individually shaped molds, which made fabrication difficult and expensive. Herein, we report on a new suit (K3), which solves this problem by the Chocobar technique – standardized flexible composite pads that can be trimmed to fit any diver. This significantly simplifies fabrication and lowers cost. Field tests of K3 vs commercial neoprene suits demonstrated thermal protection that was 4.5°C better than a 7/6 mm suit and on par with a top-of-the-line 8 mm suit, while featuring superior flexibility and ergonomics. The K3 is an important development in diving suit technology and should be of strong interest to commercial, recreational, and military divers.