14 February 2017

JFD's HeliCom system to be used in NASA and NEDU experiment

Subsea to space communication: JFD's helium speech communication system to be used in world-first experiment.

JFD, the world-leading subsea operations and manufacturing company and part of James Fisher and Sons plc, has the opportunity to be part of a ground breaking experiment through its helium speech communication system, the HeliCom Matrix.

The experiment, to conduct a call between an astronaut in space and a diver in saturation will be the first of its kind.  NASA and NEDU (Navy Experimental Diving Unit, part of the US Navy) have been comparing similarities between outer space and subsea and are to arrange a telephone call between an astronaut living at the international space station and a diver in saturation within the NEDU facility in Panama City, Florida. This is to be conducted through the HeliCom Matrix based at NEDU, to allow the effects of helium on the diver's speech to be removed making his communications more audible.

The HeliCom Matrix is designed for helium speech communications with the occupants of a complete saturation chamber complex. As saturation divers breathe heliox (a mix of helium and oxygen) their speech becomes high pitched and resembles what many know as the “Donald Duck” effect. This makes understanding what the divers say very difficult. The JFD range of Divex HeliCom unscramblers and matrix system unscrambles the helium speech using a vocal tract modeller digital helium unscrambler which essentially converts raw helium speech back to intelligible communications as if no heliox is present.

There is a huge improvement to diver safety when highly intelligible communications are in place. When a supervisor can understand divers clearly using the unscrambling technology offered on the HeliCom unscrambler range, this eliminates potential miscommunication or misunderstanding, especially when a diver may be trying to communicate an issue.

The HeliCom Matrix's primary function is to provide communications between the chamber occupants and the supervisor however it also provides for entertainment and telephone calls. This allows a diver's family to call from home and speak to them through the matrix system, where the unscrambler function will reverse the effects on their speech caused by the heliox gas mix and allow a normal conversation to take place.

Watch a news clip about the NASA NEDU HeliCom experiment.


French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, onboard the International Space Station, successfully spoke to US Navy divers in a simulated 500ft saturation dive at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit in Panama City, USA. The divers talked to Pesquet for over 10 minutes about the similarities of the environments they faced, which was live-streamed on Facebook.

"The physiology and science is similar between saturation diving and going into outer space."

Said Navy Experimental Diving Unit Lt. David Meadows.

Their mission was to test their lines of communication, from deep-sea to space. 

"Diving communications are important because the diver is the eyes and ears and hands of the control room or the Master Diver who's supervising the dives."

said NEDU Dive & Medical Officer Lt. Jonathan Brown.

Watch the space to subsea conversation on Facebook.

You can also find out more about the call from the International Space Station to the US Navy Experimental Diving Unit with these articles: