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Dive Industry Interviews Rebreathers

DIVER interview: Aleš Procháska

Aleš Procháska – Rebreather Designer / CTO & Co-Founder of Divesoft

Divesoft’s Co-Founder and CEO Aleš Procháska in the Liberty factory in Czechia. Home of “plain rocks, cold water and poor visibility”. But that’s okay because he doesn’t “have to see anything underwater, I still enjoy the unlimited freedom of three dimensional movement.”

How long have you been diving?
It’s been over 20 years. I took my first diving course in 1998.

What moment made you become a diver?
When I was a child, I read The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau, and I was sure I’d try diving one day. I used to imagine the desire of Aqua-Lung’s inventors to move freely underwater.

How did Divesoft come about?
My wife and I founded a software company specialized in electronic banking in the early 90s. Meanwhile technical diving became my hobby so I developed, originally only for my personal needs, my first analyzer, which was able to measure oxygen and helium concentration in breathing gas. I created the design and produced 20 pieces with the intention to sell only to my diving friends. However, to my surprise, all sold within days. So my wife and I decided to establish Divesoft. It was more of a hobby at the beginning, and we had just one product: the second version of the analyzer. Later, when we sold the software company, we focused more on Divesoft and the development of additional products.

“Diving is a potentially dangerous activity so don’t increase the danger by doing more complicated dives that don’t meet your skill level, training, equipment, weather or health condition.”

What’s your approach to manufacturing?
I’m happy when our products are well designed, elaborately detailed and precisely produced. It’s a matter of not looking for compromises where they aren’t necessary, and taking care of the small details as much as possible.

What has made your rebreathers so successful and well respected?
We place emphasis on software abilities because we know it wouldn’t be possible to achieve one hundred percent redundancy of the unit control system without the software support. Additionally, I believe that clients can see we continuously bring innovation that makes diving easier thanks to more reliable gear that’s easier to use.

What’s in the future for rebreathers?
Predicting the future is a tricky thing but based on current trends and designers’ intentions, I would sugget that an obvious trend is the greater use of sidemount configuration. Until recently, sidemount was a special unit used in cramped conditions and its advantages were offset by the complicated manipulation of off-board gases. However, nowadays there are compact units available with built-in oxygen and diluent bottles, so more divers are choosing to utilize sidemount as their primary device.

One more thing that sidemounts influence is using a rebreather as a bailout unit instead of the commonly used open-circuit. It’s not typical and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who didn’t have extensive experience, but certainly, using it this way will be on the increase. We already equip devices with a special operational mode that keeps bailout units in a constant stand-by mode; however, if there is not enough shared experience between divers, it’s important to deploy the bailout rebreather very cautiously.

What role will digital technology play?
We can expect, and I would support such a trend, that capabilities of wireless diving devices will grow and ‘surface’ software such as mobile devices will increase. Nowadays, the implementation of electronics is easier for designers. The key though is to recognize what’s an important innovation, and what’s just a marginal use of something that technology already currently offers.

“Overall, I don’t think that rebreathers could replace open-circuit. The difference in technical demands and also reliability and resistance to poor-handling is too big to be able to interchange these two branches of diving technology.”

Most memorable marine life encounter?
A wintertime meeting with killer whales and humpback whales beyond the polar circle in Norway. It was amazing to see their hunting strategy when chasing herring, and it was even more breathtaking to hear how they communicated with each other. I was astonished by the changing style of their communication depending on whether the killer whales were on their own or hunting together with the humpback whales. I couldn’t find any confirmation in literature but I’m convinced that killer whales agree with humpback whales on their hunting strategy in advance. The unique experience was topped off by a killer whale who approached to check me out and then hit several herrings with its tail; it didn’t eat them all, however, and shared its catch with me by leaving one herring. Thanks to the killer whales, our team enjoyed herring for dinner that evening!

Proudest diving moment or achievement?
When I first took a breath underwater from my handmade prototype diving apparatus. The feeling that it worked was priceless.

Craziest thing you’ve seen underwater?
It was the inverse temperature profile with warm water at the bottom and cold water at the surface. One day I was pondering if something like this could occur in water and a few very theoretical ways came to me, yet still seemed unreal. Nevertheless, I later found myself diving in Iceland, a country where the term ‘impossible natural conditions’ takes on a whole different meaning. I experienced two such interesting and rare effects in a bay near Akureyri. The first was a warm undersea spring which kept a pleasant temperature at the bottom of a small cavern, comparable to tropical seas. Above the spring was cold Arctic water with a temperature around 9°C (48°F). And that wasn’t all. A glacial river with temperatures slightly above freezing flowed into the bay, so icy fresh water spilt and created a six-foot (2m) layer over the relatively warmer bay’s sea water. I never thought I could experience such a phenomenon.

Favourite dive snack?
It’s easy: fruit juice in a Tetra Pak which I can take with me diving to sweeten my last decompression stop!

What’s next for you?
I have so many ideas and visions and  it’s not possible to manage them all at once. I certainly want to work further develop what we’ve already been doing at Divesoft, and I would like to bring at least some of my infinite ideas to fruition. 

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