We thrive when faced with an unprecedented challenge

Acheron Project
Deepsea Challenger Pilot Sphere

How do you keep James Cameron happy for 8hrs in a 1m diameter sphere 11 thousand metres underwater?

For many this may sound like an impossible challenge – but it didn’t stop the D+I team. We love a tough design brief.

D+I were selected by James Cameron and Ron Allum of the Acheron Project as the preferred Australian industrial design team to develop the cockpit layout for the Deepsea Challenger’s record dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The Mariana Trench is 10,924 metres straight down and is deeper than Mount Everest is high. With such tremendous depths and extreme pressure conditions it all came down to risk and how we could minimise these critical factors to keep the pilot safe and well equipped to drive the sub. 

We undertook research and exploratory assignments by firstly listening to the pilots and uncovering every process and anticipated need they required for the record dive. We then set about investigating and questioning the specialist engineers at Acheron Project to be clear on the critical risks involved with such an extreme dive. There were so many complex variables and constraints to work with, any fires and the pilot can’t breathe or see, too much weight would compromise the sub’s finely tuned buoyancy, any moisture build up would cause critical systems to fail and excessive fatigue and discomfort would affect the pilot’s ability to control the dive.

With the necessary groundwork and research completed we could then build up a clear picture of the systems architecture and requirements. These requirements were fed into a series of concept development activities with key D+I technical designers working directly with the pilots Cameron and Allum and the Acheron engineering team. Through these brainstorming and development sessions a number of detailed spatial mock-ups were modelled within a purpose built simulator of the steel Life Support Sphere in the D+I Balmain studio. 


Hours were spent with Cameron and the team moving foam models of hardware around the simulator, updating seat designs, throwing ideas out, trying innovative new ones. 

The process involved pins and needles, bumped heads and sore backs. These invaluable mock-up sessions allowed us to follow the pilot through the dive – we were able focus on ergonomics and look at hatch entry/exit techniques, how we could launch the sub with the pilot on his back and then change their orientation during the sub’s descent, what activities they’d run through during the dive, and how they’d then ascend. We took hours and hours of video, took literally thousands of photos and constantly reworked our ideas until a solid design solution began to form.

The project is the most significant undertaking for D+I over the last 25 years. 

It won Product of the Year at the 2012 Good Design Awards and serves to demonstrate our ability to perform work at any level. 


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