The Submersible Pressure Gauge (SPG) has been part of diving for many many years but as everything else becomes digital why are we still very much attached to our analogue gauges and will we ever be able to get rid of that extra hose?
Wireless Air Integration has been around for a while now and as technology has developed over the years so too has the reliability, features and functions that they offer. There is no doubt that integrating live data about your cylinder pressure and breathing rates into your dive computer for on screen visibility and decompression calculations is a good thing (safer) but nine times out of ten a transmitter is then backed up by an SPG. We don't carry two SPGs in case one fails so why the insecurity about transmitters?
Early models did have some issues with connectivity and pairing but technology and programming have been improved to boost the transmission distance (water doesn't transmitter radio waves very well), reliability and transmitters are generally paired to a computer using their unique serial numbers to prevent cross communication between units.
If you are a recreational diver weighing up the option of whether to go wireless or not we would say that the advantages out weigh the disadvantages. Adding a transmitter to your compatible dive computer adds extra layers of safety above and beyond your own training. Most computers will then be able to work out your air time remaining as well as various alerts including low pressure and alerting you when it is time to ascend based on your remaining air and calculated ascent time.
So what else is holding back the popularity advance of wireless air integration?
- Cost - For a new option to succeed an older one it has to be better value in order for divers to be enticed. Transmitters are still relatively expensive but the difference is negligible or none existent . Dive computers at the level that use transmitters will often incorporate all the elements of a triple console (pressure, depth, compass) which start at around the £150 mark whereas, depending on the brand of course, transmitters can start from £130 but are typically around the £200+ range. The biggest cost impact is it you are using multiple cylinders. Whilst you can have a full console on your main you can easily get away with a basic SPG for the other cylinders which isn't something you can do with a transmitter.
- Size - Transmitters are relatively bulky that that makes they prone to knocks and people grabbing them to lift with (big no no) but probably half of the transmitter length is a result of the battery. As battery technology improves and capacities increase the size of the power unit can shrink and everything else can follow.
- Universal connectivity - The trouble with transmitters is that they are specific to their own brand. One brand will not work with another brand. It makes sense from a manufacturers point of view as it locks a diver into their brand but what if, even on the most basic function level, any transmitter could talk to any computer once paired. Higher level abilities and functions could be reserved for same brand computers. If every other industry can agree on technology standards why can't the diving industry?
- Attitude - New technology is much more readily accepted and expected by younger generations. There is nothing wrong with the analogue dash in a car but that hasn't stopped car manufacturers ripping them out and replacing them with colour displays that allow interchangeable screens that interface with your smartphone. If you buy a high end car it is the kind of technology that is expected.
- Type of Diving - Whilst equipment failure is never good, aborting a dive as a recreational diver is, in an ideal world, easier than for a technical diver at significant depth that has multiple decompression stops and gas switches to perform before reaching the surface safely should one of their transmitters fail.
Yes there are technological advancements that need to be made before transmitters will become the norm but likewise manufacturers really need to work on diver attitude and trust if they are going to win the masses over to wireless integration. Prove to the divers that are cling it their SPGs that transmitters are just as reliable and you'll win over the more easily swayed on the way.