Building a high-tech wetsuit for the cold

Posted on 12/03/2016 by Ant Williams

I’ve just returned from a very quick trip over to New Zealand where I was speaking for Sharp NZ at their yearly sales conference. While I was there I received confirmation from The New Zealand Defence Force that I had been given clearance to visit their base in Devonport to try out some cutting edge body scanning equipment. Wow, I felt super privileged. Not even The Legendary All Blacks had been able to test this machine yet.

The technology involves multiple lasers that scan you from head to toe. In seconds an exact digital replica of your body appears on the computer screen. The idea is to create highly accurate avatars of every soldier. With laser precise measurements they can design combat gear with the perfect fit every time.

The reason for my interest in this technology is the possibility of creating the most highly customised freediving wetsuit ever. One that has no over-stretch or sag areas, which is common in most wetsuits. These factors create unwanted drag through the water and slow the suit down. Moving fast and staying warm in the sub-zero temperatures of the water beneath the ice at the North Pole will be crucial to a successful world record attempt.

I was feeling like an excited kid on some sort of top-secret mission. Saturday morning I got up early and headed over to the Defence Force Base with my good mate Dave and a video camera to capture the experience. Stephven Kolose, who is completing his PhD on Human Factors research, greeted us when we arrived. After a quick drive through the Naval Base we arrived at the Defence Technology Agency.

Stephven explained how the body scanner works and then it was time to strip down for a scan. Don’t mind me in my undies. I was feeling a bit James Bond like while getting tagged up with green dots. My buddy Dave looked on bemused. The scan takes only seconds. But the whole process of skinfold tests, manual measurements and laser scanning took just over an hour. But after the scan my Avatar appeared instantly as Stephven scrolled through a remarkably detailed list of body measurements.

So what happens next? My avatar with all those measurements was beamed over to Human Solutions in the USA. These guys clean up the raw images then layer a “digital fabric” over the top of my avatar. Using a piece of proprietary software, the Human Solutions team then turn this digital fabric in to a clothing pattern that we give to a wetsuit manufacturer. 

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the Defence Technology Agency for granting me special clearance to have access to this technology. Also to Dave Stewart for all his hard work behind the scenes in setting up this opportunity for me.

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