Monday, December 19, 2011

The Mk. IV habitat takes shape

As much as I like the Mk.2.6 because it looks cool, it has a few shortcomings. I didn't design LED lights in from the start and the ones I added later were battery powered; There is just a single heating pad and the hamsters fight over it. There's no exercise wheel either, and the weighted base is simply barbell weights bolted to a wooden plank. By designing in all of the desired electrical systems from the start, I can produce a habitat with ample LED lighting and two heated pads, but just a single power cable that penetrates the hull and leads back to the surface. Using a single large enclosure creates enough room for an angled "exercise disc", which serves the same purpose but does not require as much vertical space as a traditional wheel (the same device was used in the Mk.3). However, the most revolutionary addition will be an optional connection for high pressure hose of the type I used for my dive helmet, so that using the same solar/battery powered compressor, I can deploy the Mk.IV habitat to depths of up to 21 feet. This is the limit at which the hamsters will not saturate with nitrogen and therefore will not require decompression. I have many devices at my disposal but a hamster sized decompression chamber is not among them. The deepest deployable depth will be 20 feet, for safe measure. A tremendous depth for hamsters, and probably a record of the kind nobody else will ever see the need to challenge. I don't have access to water that deep, so in all likelihood that particular feature will never be used. But the habitat will be capable of it, should the opportunity arise.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hampture 2.6 repaired, upgraded and back in the water

 After 4 weeks of use, Hampture 2.6 has proven itsself subseaworthy, except for one issue; The hamsters broke their heat pad. I intended to leave them down longer than 4 weeks as it was going so well but a few days ago I noticed they were lethargic and huddled together whereas normally they are very active, moving from room to room, fighting over the chew toy and so on. Sure enough upon surfacing the habitat and checking the heater, they had chewed the wiring such that it was no longer delivering heat. So the hambros got a day or two of shore leave while I rewired the heating pad so that it is flush with the wall and no wiring is exposed for them to chew on. A bittering agent on the pad prevents them from chewing it, although that didn't seem to be an issue anyway as it's a type of plastic they have no interest in. With that finished, I added LED lighting (battery powered until I can wire it into the main power supply) and a new food dish that is transparent so I can monitor their amount of food remaining as easily as their water supply. It's been two days now with the habitat back underwater and everything's looking good for a longer submersion this time; The soil did a better job of handling waste than I expected (to the point of growing plants) so this time I am attempting a 6 week submersion. If their food and water hold out that long (supplies of both are ample) I may attempt two months. By then, the livestream should be set up and you can follow along.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

We have plants!

I had to take Hampture out of the water recently as it became apparent that the heater had broken; the little guys had chewed off the fabric coating of the heating pad and in doing so pulled loose one of the wires. I've removed it and I'm working on rewiring it in such a way that the connection is sturdier. They had been under for 4 weeks anyway and deserved some shore leave. :3
More to the point; Plants! When I opened the habitat I was surprised to see green growth. It seems that even without the LED lights inside (which I still plan to add) there was enough ambient light to sustain grass. The hamsters' waste provided the nutrients and moisture needed, and presto. I am removing the grass this time as it would grow too tall and fill up the habitat, but clover would be just about right. I plan to buy some clover seeds and sprinkle the habitat soil bed with them. It'll accelerate waste decomposition and provide fresh food for the hamsternauts.

I now have a decent PC for livestreaming up and running with procaster. I am also looking to get a nice deep fish tank so that there can be some aquatic life swimming around the habitat exterior. If all goes as planned I can have the 24/7 Hampture livestream operational sometime in early January.

Update: Heater is now fixed. Connections are encased in solidified superglue and the pad's edge is up against the wall so they can't chew on the wire. I defy them to break it now! >:D

Update 2: Habitat is back in the water, everything is working as expected. New video soon, featuring their discovery of the observation towers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lloyd Godson, marine biologist and fellow member of the Atlantica Expeditions, has already constructed and deployed two underwater habitats; Biosub 1 and Biosub 2. He broke records in both, won a National Geographic $50,000 award, but now he wants to share his experience living underwater with the next generation of mini-seabros. 

 This new habitat will be much larger, and intended for education. Kids from local schools will be able to visit and learn about the fresh water marine ecosystem, and man's future living underwater. The station will be the headquarters of its mascot, an undersea superhero named 'Tik' and his fish sidekick 'Bubbles'. By giving potential future marine scientists their first taste of living under the sea, their imaginations will run wild with the possibilities it presents, ones which they might not otherwise have considered. And if even a few go on to be influential, wealthy, powerful, etc. it could help advanced the field. Click the link above and then vote for his proposal by clicking the 'like' icon to the right. If his proposal wins, it will be fully funded and construction can begin. Everyone vote, let's make this shit happen!

Friday, November 4, 2011

War in the deep

From time to time they fight like this, underwater or not. Apparently sibling rodents of many species do this to establish dominance. They will take well to objectivism.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hampture Mk. 2.6 complete

As you can see I've changed it quite a bit since 2.5. I think I'm happy with it now and this will remain its final configuration. It has an electrically heated floor, two observation towers, an integrated water bottle, and it's divided into heated ad non-heated sections so the hamsters can regulate their ow temperature by moving between them as needed. Damp soil handles the waste via microbial action, the pump is doubly redundant and backed up by batteries in the event of a power failure, and I plan to add an uninterruptable power supply to add an extra layer of safety. As it is now, it's sufficient for missions between one and four weeks long. It's a nice milestone and a good size/weight habitat for frequent use (Mk.3 was much too big and heavy) so I think I'll use this one for the upcoming 24/7 ham-cam livestream channel. A youtube video will be coming shortly.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


For the past few weeks I've been struggling to think of some way for hamsub to dock with hampture and safely deliver hamsters to and from it. A docking collar was out of the question because it would require some kind of motorized system to pull the two docking rings tight against each other, motorized doors that would open, but also shut tightly enough to keep water out, and all of that would need to be radio controlled. It just wasn't feasible for me. Neither was an airlock system using doors, since hamsub requires an air tube. That's when this design occurred to me:

Fig. 1: Docking chamber with a moon pool in the bottom starts out full of water. This way hamsub can navigate up inside of it and come to rest on the part of the floor that wasn't cut away to make the moon pool.

Fig. 2: A separate air pump just for this one purpose is turned on, forcing air into the docking chamber, pushing the water out until the waterline has dropped down to the moon pool and the chamber is empty of water. The hamster is now free to climb out of the sub and up the tunnel into Hampture.

This is drastically simpler, doesn't risk catching the hamsters in the closing doors, and requires little in the way of modifications to hamsub. I am planning to make the docking station its own separate habitat, connected to the others by a long, flexible tube.

And no, the hamsub is in no danger of tipping over for the same reason a hot air balloon doesn't tip over; The very buoyant part is on top and the very heavy part is hung underneath it. This keeps it stably upright in water despite any attempt to tip it.

Major renovations underway.

So, while installing a ridged climbing tube between the upper and lower floors of the habitat tower, I learned a hard lesson about sealant quality; Upon reassembling the tower I found I had run out of marine grade silicone sealant, so I used something purporting to be just as good, a transparent goo that I immediately discovered was complete crap at waterproofing. Upon test-submerging the reassembled habitat (without the hamsters inside obviously) it slowly began taking on water in the recently reassembled section. I took it out, checked for leaks, added more sealant, waited another day for it to cure, but no dice. Leaks persisted, to the point that the habitat is now in pieces again awaiting proper sealant prior to reassembly.

However,in that time I happened across a few parts that fit perfectly together by pure coincidence. The domed lid of a frappucino (with the large hole for the straw) snaps onto the bottom part of a mini-DVD spindle, which serves as the floor. It does so very tightly, water does not get in. As for the large hole in the top of the dome, the small clear bubble from a 25 cent toy capsule happens to just barely fit when shoved through from below, such that it forms a sort of compound dome that is rigidly watertight without any glue.

This left me with a floor, and a compound dome. I drilled a hole in the floor piece and dremeled it out until it was large enough to stick a ridged climbing tube through and I'm now waiting for the marine loctite epoxy to cure. When the loft section is done, I will drill and then dremel out a hole in the cieling of the main living module and install the loft as pictured here:

You'll notice there's also a water bottle I've already installed. This is because I can't be sure whether or not permitting outside water in via the drinking tube, even through a filter, works properly. The Mk.III habitat used this mechanism but I could not be inside to test it while submerged obviously and the hamsters had a dish of water as backup in case it didn't, or in case they refused to drink even filtered lake water.

My main concern is that the internal overpressure would continually push air out *through* the drinking tube, permitting no water to get in through it. So even though the water intake mechanism would hypothetically offer unlimited drinking water, I've opted for a finite water bottle that I know for sure will work because it does not connect to the outside water and therefore won't permit any kind of pressure related shenanigans to occur. Plus it has a little plastic turtle floating in it so I can see when their water supply gets low. :3

Incidentally I have also replaced the kitty litter with planting soil from a garden shop. Bacterial action in said soil will continually process the hamster waste, and with the help of clover I've planted in the soil, it will metabolize it at a rate sufficient to prevent buildup. This means I will soon be able to leave the habitat underwater for as long as the food and water hold out, which (judging by their rate of consumption) could be a month or more. If I can prove to my own satisfaction that the filtered water intake works (by observing it in the test tank) then that could be theoretically extended to many months, assuming I put in an overly generous stockpile of food.

I've learned a valuable lesson about which sealants work and which don't. Now I can be confident that the Mk.2.5 habitat, once fully rebuilt, will not only sustain hamsters much longer than before without surfacing, but also be more reliably watertight than ever.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Video: Patrolling Hampture in the minisub

Hampture 2.5

Hampture Mk.III is cool, but it's enormous and heavy, a pain in the ass to lug around. I need something more portable, but with enough living space for the hamsters for 24 hour missions. Enter: Hampture 2.5

It's a two story tower expansion to Hampture Mk.II connected by a transparent tunnel. This gives each hamster a private area and a means of exercise (for whatever reason when put in a circular enclosure, roborovksi hamsters will run themselves around the edge until tired out). They haven't yet figured out that they can reach the second floor, I may have to put in a climbing tube segment, but otherwise they spent the first few minutes thoroughly exploring the addition before going back to building a nest in the living quarters. Here's a video of the hams hanging out in the expanded outpost:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Diving helmet nearly complete.

Took ages for the silicone sealant to fully cure. I tested the helmet in the water tank, and it's 100% airtight. That was a pleasant surprise, I expected to have to add dabs of silicone here and there to seal spots I didn't get the first time, but no. Other than being messy (a lot of dust and crap got stuck to it while I was working with the sticky silicone) and needing the paint retouched (bits came off while working with the sticky silicone, that shit gets everywhere) and needing weights, it's ready to go. That's maybe 15 minutes of work, once I have the weights in hand, then a few hours for the paint to dry.

It doesn't look as nice as any of the consumer models, but then it's cheaper by a factor of 50 and it looks better than any of the DIY helmets I've seen online. I'm very pleased with how this is coming together and I can't wait to put it to use.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

More progress on the helmet

As you can see it's now painted, and the spigot for the air hose is installed. I haven't put all the bolts back in yet because I still need to add sealant, just wanted it all in one piece for the photo. Should be done pretty soon!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Helmet progress.

Got all the holes drilled, all the cuts made, and the transparent acrylic view-panels are now installed.

Now I need to remove the panels again, clean it up, spray paint it, then install the weights and air spigot. I've already got 100 feet of air hose (It's just below the helmet in that photo) so once all that's done, we're ready to rock.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Now it's my turn.

In the 1970s, a toy called the aqua bell was available. It consisted of a thin, transparent plastic helmet weighted down with a collar section full of sand. It was supplied air from the surface via an electric bicycle pump. It was rated for 35 feet although one shouldn't really go deeper than 25 feet, as that's the limit before which your body will not saturate with nitrogen. Stay above that limit and the bends will not occur.

Unfortunately it's no longer available, and the only diving helmets you CAN buy start around $4,000. There's no good reason for this. They work the exact same way. Air is supplied from a surface compressor, and because it can freely escape out the bottom, the pressure inside self-regulates to ambient at all times. That's why it's not a struggle to breathe. It's the same way historical diving helmets worked before the advent of scuba, basically just a diving bell you wear over your head.

Why helmet diving? Because it's fun. Your hair and face stay dry. If you stick a radio inside and you're in shallow water, you can talk to the person watching over the pump (although a wired communication system would give better results). You can breathe normally, instead of sucking on a regulator. It's a bit like being in a space helmet, walking on the moon.

Today, helmet diving is still done. Unfortunately it's marketed as a tourist attraction and as a novelty for the wealthy and it's priced accordingly. Even though it's still just a weighted container fed air from a surface compressor, a consumer diving helmet like this one costs $4,000:

Here's a tourist attraction featuring similar helmets:

I consider it ridiculous that this experience is available only as a short duration tourist attraction or at an exorbitant, ridiculous price. There's no need. The same thing used to be sold as a toy for no more than $50! Surely something like this can be produced that everyone can afford so that ordinary people can experience helmet diving whenever they like.

Having done the math, my battery pack has around 336 watt hours of capacity and the compressor is 150 watts. That's 2.2~ hours of run time under ideal conditions. With AC conversion loss and the slight sulfation of the battery taken into account I can be guaranteed at least an hour of air. I'll know when it has run out because the bubbles will stop, and because I intend to have a stopwatch mounted inside the helmet where I can see it so I know how much time I have left. When I'm running low I can simply swim to the surface.

Please, no comments expressing concern for my health. Trust that I have a thorough understanding of the risks involved. I am certain this can be built, that it is safe, and that I will not be injured provided I stay in shallow water and have someone with me for safety. I would not put the hambros through anything I wouldn't also subject myself to, and if everything goes as planned, I will.

Here's the initial design for the diving helmet and a possible partial habitat/observatory I might also attempt following the completion of the helmet.

The helmet can be used in this configuration to get to and from the habitat, and also to explore the area around it. This configuration accommodates one person, so the supply of air is always sufficient, although because the rate of flow is enough to sustain 20 people by my math you could also bring a second person down to the observatory provided another such helmet. The real trick will be finding someplace with clear water deep enough to deploy this thing and getting it there.

If all goes well I intend to make a webpage pitching this idea as a commercial product. The goal will be a complete helmet diving system for under $100.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hamsub Mk.I is online.

There's good news and bad news.

Good news: The sub is neutrally buoyant, and stays upright in water. The design seems solid, moreso than I expected on the first try.

Bad news: The RC minisub that provides maneuverability is kind of crap. It has no ballast tank and relies on downward angled props to descend. This barely works. I can descend, but not without going forward a bit, and the minute the props stop spinning, the sub slowly ascends (which I can accelerate by reversing the prop spin direction, but the sub also moves backward, etc)

Solution: I've ordered a replacement mini RC sub that is much more expensive but which has a proper ballast tank, so it can greatly alter its own buoyancy on command. It also has stronger thrust, as you can see in the video that's something Hamsub sorely needs. The current thrusters struggle to make the sub turn against the influence of the air hose, which is as thin and flexible as it comes.

Here's a vid of the new RC sub that will soon be providing maneuvering capability for Hamsub Mk.II:

I expect the final product will also make an excellent low cost ROV simply by sticking a video camera inside the passenger capsule. For once, one of my projects has practical applications. Feels wrong somehow.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mission 1 complete.

Here's the video:

Everything went about as well as I could expect. Leaving them unattended overnight was nerve wracking but upon opening the habitat I found them sleeping piled on top of one another like nothing was amiss. They're now chilling in their tank awaiting new adventures. :3

Some things I want to fix for next time: The room 2 camera is pitifully low resolution, I apologize for this. I thought it would look better when I ordered it. I've already bought a higher resolution (640*480) replacement that is nearly as compact. I can't use a regular digicam because it takes up too much space, the hamsters need elbow room. But I think the new camera will be ideal, and if so I plan to buy more so in the next video we can get footage from every room rather than just two.

The battery pack read 20% when I found it, so longer missions are probably possible, but I think 24 hours is about as long as I'd consider deploying the habitat in this configuration. Eventually I'd like to upgrade the habitat and install it in a pond out back which I need to clean up a lot first. When that happens I can connect it to grid power and leave it down for a week at a time, with a livestream you guys can watch.

All in all, a fairly successful mission. And it began on the same day as the latest Aquarius mission, Neemo 15. Incidentally, by the official definition of aquanaut (one who lives in an underwater habitat for 24 hours) my hamsters are now genuine aquanauts.

T-minus 1 hour to mission end.

At 1pm today I'll be removing the habitat from the water, marking the end of the 24 hour underwater mission. Early this morning I dropped by the site, plugged my laptop into the webcam USB umbilical and was able to confirm that the hamsters are not only alive but appear active and healthy. Even so I was worried pretty much the entire time. No matter how much effort you put into the design, the safety system and whatnot, when there are lives in the balance you still feel irrationally paranoid until it's all over. I'm very tempted to remove them now lest something go wrong at the last minute but I want to see this through. Wait for the followup post, where I'll have cut together video from the onboard cameras for your review.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Today's the day.

In a bit, I'll be deploying Hampture Mk.III. Video will be available tonight and I'll be retrieving the habitat at the same time tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Big update

I got my live culture of algae in the mail sometime back and it's been growing in the main jug ever since. Why buy algae you ask? As it turns out if you just scoop up some pond water you're getting tons of different organisms which in fact compete with the algae and impact its ability to efficiently generate oxygen. With a pure supply and a sealed jug (air is bubbled in via aquarium pump) I can ensure that the only thing growing in there is what I intended for.Once the main jug is sufficiently dense with algae I can pour some into each of the smaller bottles. Keeping a large healthy backup population prevents me from having to start over with the cultivation process if something happens to the bioreactor system.

Next, I scouted the precise location from which Hampture Mk.III will be deployed. As you can see there's an island near the center of the lake, with a steep dropoff into the water that should permit me to get Hampture in quite deep water without needing an absurdly long umbilical.Below you can see the fallen log which acts as a bridge to the island. This makes it inaccessible enough that I can confidently hide the surface support gear in the brush to one side of the island and feel fairly certain that it won't be found.Finally, here's the view from the island itself.Hampture Mk.III will be perhaps fifteen feet from shore and 7 feet down. It will be in water 8 feet deep, but propped up off the pond bottom on cinderblocks which will also serve as weights to keep it from floating. It's surprisingly difficult to keep any significant quantity of air trapped underwater, but I've factored that into the design. Once I have those weights attached, as well as a water filter for the drinking intake, it will be time to deploy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hamsub begins development.

One of the most requested additions to Hampture has been a submarine of some sort as transportation for the intrepid hamsternauts. Toward that end, while I wait for an opportunity to install Hampture Mk.III in a nearby pond, I've begun work on a small single occupant submersible:

I intend to buy either an RC sub or ROV kit and use the components to turn this life support pod into a fully fledged submersible, with three waterproof motors and a small camera so I can properly steer it. The thin, flexible air hose will be woven into the same tether that supplies power and control such that the passenger has a steady supply of fresh air at all times. Here's the cockpit pod dealie in a tank of water. While air is being supplied I had a hard time getting bubbles to show up in the pictures.
If it's hard to tell, air is pumped in through the back and vented out through a small hole in the floor near the front window. This ensures that if there is a breach, any water that gets in will be continually forced out by the air pressure. A 15 minute test submersion with tissue inside came back dry, so I put Ratlas in there for about 10 minutes to see how he handled the snug quarters. He shredded the tissue, made a nest and fell asleep. :3

I'd love to figure out some way for a sub to dock at Hampture for food resupplying and transferring hamsters to/from the colony but the mechanism involved seems hopelessly complex and unsafe, so unless I discover that there's some professional quality premade connector that will do the job, Hamsub will be deployed from the surface only.

Bonus mspaint time:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hampture Mk.III is complete and read to deploy.

It's even inhabited. Meet Hamdrew Ryan, Ratlas and Nomtaine.

As you can see, our three hamsternaut heroes are getting used to their new habitat and figuring out where the various rooms are and what they contain. I've got a redundant battery backup pump system running and after about 90 minutes of chilling out and watching them they seem fine, which is consonant with the original calculations indicating that the deep water air pump moves enough air to sustain 15 hamsters. 3 seems to be no sweat. I modified the tubing so that air is now supplied to every single room rather than just two (relying on airflow to carry fresh air to the other two) as I figure it's safer. Even so, it makes me nervous knowing that soon they'll be living deep underwater for days on end.

The resistive heating pad is installed and powered on, they seem to be intrigued by it but they don't hang around on it for very long. I figure if I'm going to have it in the water overnight they'll need the heat source, and they'll figure out what it's good for then. I also installed the water nozzle, which works as expected, and I'll be installing the water filter on it sometime tomorrow. After that I've just got to clear out the pond area and figure out where I'm going to sink it.

Things are really moving quickly now! :3

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hampturecam is installed

Here's the view from inside:
This should afford a good view of the ham hams running on the saucer/wheel thing and coming/going through one of the tubes. Not ideal, but the best view available.

Meanwhile, here's the algae bioreactor so far:
Needs 18 bottles total (and algae) to provide enough oxygen for 3 hamsters with a reasonable excess to ensure it's sufficient. Guess I'll be drinking a lot of soda for a while.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Photo of progress so far

Here's the habitat(s), bolted down to the platform (the bolt heads cannot be seen as they're buried under a thin layer of cat litter) and joined by acrylic tunnels that are now sealed against water using silicone gel, which has hardened nicely overnight. I've just added the air input tubes, which will connect to the detachable umbilical once *their* silicone sealant has dried.
As you can see I've included the Hampture Mk.II habitat alongside it for size comparison, and I've been positioning the camera in different places and looking through it wiht my laptop to get a sense of where the best view would be.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Algae based life support.

I've been wanting to experiment with such a system anyway, and the end result might wind up being added to Hampture Mk.III as an upgrade. Basically the air pump circulates air from the enclosure through a series of algae water filled 2 litre soda bottles, where airstones dissolve the air into the water so the algae can remove the CO2 and replace it with oxygen. It's then forced into the next bottle where the process is repeated, and so on. I call it the Human Centipede principle of life support. Patent pending.

If this works as expected, that's one more tie with the surface I can sever, and only the power cord will remain. Eventually I'd like some kind of watertight battery pack I can drop into place; I'd keep one charging at home while the other is in use, and every day I'd go out and swap them, thus keeping Hampture supplied with power. This would be a fairly expensive solution however so for the time being, a permanent power umbilical to the surface is unavoidable.

I definitely plan to deploy Hampture Mk.III With the surface air pump first, so as not to keep you guys waiting, in case that was unclear. You'll have streaming video from inside the habitat for a week or two, and then I'll get to work on the algae bioreactor upgrade.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

All parts have arrived.

All enclosures, tubes and so on have arrived pre-cut for assembly. I'm now looking around for something to mount them on. It will probably wind up being water-sealed sheet wood, with a layer of paving tile underneath as ballast.

Just letting you know I'm still working on this. I had no idea a 4x larger habitat would be so much more work. Although really, moving cross country mid-project hasn't helped. Keep your eyes on this space, progress should be more rapid going forward.