We stare up to the stars while vast unexplored waters lap at our feet. The oceans play host to between 50 to 80 percent of all life on earth, yet we’ve explored less than 10 percent of its space. Recently though, there’s been a refocusing on venturing into the sea. Hawkes Ocean Technologies creates high-end consumer submersibles that are more akin to airplanes than submarines, which Adam Wright, the company’s Chief Mechanical Officer, compares to blimps in terms of speed and agility – and relatively useless if you’re tracking a pack of dolphins, or any agile marine animal.
The sub company’s latest venture is DeepFlight Hydrobatics, a Kickstarter that aims to foster explorers by testing the physical capabilities of Hawkes Ocean Technologies’ DeepFlight Super Falcon submarine. If you pledge enough through their campaign, you’ll get onboard the craft for the “aquabatics,” as Hawkes is calling it.
But this isn’t just about stunts in the water. With most submersible exploratory equipment dating back to at least the 70s, Hawkes is test-piloting the latest in submarine technology. They’ve previously built subs for private buyers, as well as the DeepFlight Challenger, that can reach a depth of 37,000 feet – the bottom of the Mariana’s Trench. The Challenger was purchased by Virgin Oceanic during a race to reach the bottom of the ocean between Richard Branson and James Cameron.
Hawkes Ocean Technologies wants to reinvigorate the “glory days of exploration” when average people would set out “exploring for the sake of exploration,” says Wright. Still, Wright doesn’t comment on unleashing adventure tourists out into pristine waters, in close proximity to endangered species.
Still, on the subject of the environment friendliness of would-be explorers, Sir Robin Hanbury-Tenison, who in 1958 made the first land-crossing of South America and is considered the doyen of British explorers, told me in an interview, “[M]y impression is that those who test themselves today against the elements, or seek to see the wilder side of life, are much more environmentally responsible than they used to be. There is nothing at all wrong with a desire for adventure, and it often leads people to devote their lives to helping to save the planet.”
Hawkes pulled design technology from airplanes and applied it to submarines, giving their subs a significant boost, but no one has ever built a submarine that can do a flip underwater. Testing the agility of the submarine means Hawkes Ocean Technologies will be able to design faster, more versatile submarines, making exploration safer. The DeepFlight Super Falcon is positively buoyant – it has to keep moving to stay submerged – so the forces they’ll deal with during a flip will be similar, but reversed, to an airplane doing an inverted loop.
If the result from the hydrobatic Kickstarter are positive in gathering enough attention, Hawkes Ocean Technologies will launch two to three crowdfunded, publicly accessible explorations per year. As opposed the current exploratory models, where the public only sees the results, Hawkes wants armchair explorers to be involved from the beginning and take part in actual exploration. Adam mentions that they’re already hoping to launch a mission to Northern Alaska dependant on Kickstarter.
What should be upsetting is that this technology has been around for a long time, but it’s only now catching up to the agility and accessibility needed to accomplish this feat. And it is the consumer market, and now maybe crowd-funding, that’s driving the innovation forward.
The significance of this Kickstarter is two-fold. First and foremost, it will provide Hawkes Ocean Technologies with non-governmental, non-military funding to test unexplored horizons for submersible transportation. As well, says Adam Wright, Chief Mechanical Officer at Hawkes Ocean Technologies, it will be a testbed or a mini survey to gauge public interest in exploration and bring a return to old school exploration, i.e. exploration for its own sake, not solely for science. This week also marks the final visit to the world’s last remaining undersea habitat, and PandoDaily’s call for more submersible VCs.
“Exploration is [currently] dominated by the old guard,” says Adam Wright, “We as a small startup enterprise [...] are poised to take over from the old guard research institutes.”
Hawkes hopes their research and Kickstarters will drive costs down for future ocean exploration and the technology needed to do so, which they admit are high at the moment. Adam even says they’re hoping to launch a crowdfunded project for an open source submarine.
As for this first experiment, it isn’t just an underwater loop-de-loop, but a test of the maneuverability of underwater transportation aboard the DeepFlight Super Falcon. The submersible looks more like a wingless plane than your average bloated submarine. The reason for DeepFlight to raise their funding through Kickstarter is to avoid the “old guard” say Adam – and reinvigorate exploration for the masses.