Onboard PAC Helps Pilot to Deepest Ocean

May 4, 2012
Snap PAC Takes its Capabilities Beyond the Plant Floor to the Sea Floor
Deep-Water Control
Opto 22's Snap PAC was the central
controller for James Cameron's exploration
to the deepest point in the world's oceans.

Programmable automation controllers (PACs) have become increasingly relied upon to schedule and execute tasks in industrial machines and networks. Now the Snap PAC from Opto 22 has taken its capabilities further, beyond the plant floor to the sea floor, aboard the Deepsea Challenger.

Filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron piloted the submersible Deepsea Challenger in a successful descent of almost 7 miles to the "Challenger Deep," the deepest point in the world's oceans. The descent to the bottom of the Mariana Trench was part of a joint scientific expedition by James Cameron, National Geographic and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research and exploration to learn more about the biology and geology of the deepest point on Earth.

Opto 22's Snap PAC acts as a central controller for the submersible, managing more than 180 interconnected onboard systems, including sensors, batteries, thrusters, life support, lighting and 3D cameras. The controller also records depth, temperature, pressure, battery status, and other vital data from the submersible, periodically transmitting the information to a support vessel on the surface.

Precise data was essential for control and telemetry. The controller's core ability to communicate with all onboard subsystems eliminated the need for signal converters and extra hardware, reducing complexity and increasing reliability. Since most electronic systems and the submersible's human pilot occupy a cramped 43 in. diameter pilot sphere, these communications capabilities and the Snap PAC's size saved much-needed space.

Opto 22 provided an onsite technical liaison, Benjamin Orchard, application engineer, who worked with submersible builder Acheron Project in Sydney, Australia, and later aboard the Mermaid Sapphire support vessel, to integrate the Snap PAC system into the Deepsea Challenger. A team of programmers and electrical engineers at Opto 22 headquarters in Temecula, Calif., helped with custom programming, system design and troubleshooting. "The Opto 22 Snap PAC system and onsite integration support by Ben Orchard provided an advanced submersible with a control system that performed above my expectations," said David Wotherspoon, project manager for Acheron Project.