BuddyLink–Extremely Elegant and Convent Dive Tech

imageWe love these articles that remind us that when you scratch a diver, most often an interesting story wafts out. It is also a vivid validation for our passion digging a bit deeper when doing research. When we ask a few extra questions that others may not, it is like using side scan sonar. You find a lot lumps worth exploring and often a bit of treasure. Here we not only learn about an extremely convenient bit of dive tech, but we also met a man that you have one thing in common with. You use a spell checker and he invented it.

Banging your tank to alert your buddy or a group has been a cliché practice since the beginning of diving. Sound and water are a great mix for volume because the sound travels fast, far and sounds seem louder in water. Mike Nelson often found the victim or was found by tank banging.  But sound alerts are not specific. You bang your tank and everyone in range hears it (hear others grumbling at you). That’s fine if you are either alone with your buddy, you are the divemaster who needs to get your groups attention, or you’re in big trouble and you want help from anyone. But what about when you are diving in a popular location and everyone is banging away for some reason or another. Was that your diver master banging or the other group nearby? Is it an emergency bang or just a “look at what I saw” bang. It can be down right annoying.

“Connecting divers in the blink of an eye.”

The above tagline is appropriate for the BuddyLink system from Affinity Devices. It an elegantly creative and simple, high-tech way to

reliably communicate directly with your buddy, your group, or call for help if needed. You want your buddies attention, simply tap the small BuddyLink on your mask and in second you’ve got it. Your are not limited to just a one message either. You can have one for “hey this is interesting,” one for “I need a bit of assistance” and another for emergencies. The first two messages are just between your and your buddy or group; but the emergency call goes out to any BuddyLink within range. It has been know to work at a ranges as far away as 200 hundred feet.

The basics.

imageThe compact BuddyLink unit is a fully encased in epoxy, has no moving parts and cannot leak. It is extremely easy to use. It suctions to the corner of your mask and we found that it becomes unobtrusive in as soon as your start diving. When ever you want your buddy you just tap the virtual button. You will get an acknowledgement blink (and beep) that you call went out and another that it was received. Additionally that color of the blink you see lets you know how close or far away you are from your buddy. For all of our testing we were using bulky drysuit gloves in cold water and had no trouble working with the device. The unit will even allow you to do a “silent ping” to check the range to your buddy without sending an alert to them.

An elegant design esthetic

The more we explored the BuddlyLink system the more realized that we had in our hands a product with an elegant design esthetic that would easily compete with products coming from one of the famous European design firms. The elegance is found in both form and function and extends beyond the BuddyLink itself to every part of this product including packaging. You can feel the years of careful consideration that went into every facet of product and packing. Inventor/diver Robert Fleming told us that he built an early prototype, which he referred to as “pretty grotesque” way back in the 1970s. This was well before most of the technology existed to make it practical. (Robert lives and invents with his partner Cherie Kusner in Marin County, California)

imageMany products for diving are tested in saltwater. But Robert says, saltwater has nothing on actual seawater for corrosion.  Every piece of the package down to the lanyards recognizes that factor. Also, everything you need is included. The BuddyLink comes with custom designed charging holder which can be attached to any USB connector, or the included AA battery based charger. The charger even has a sensual curve to the battery case. Even so, it works a long time on a charge. The waterproof pelican style case also includes an extra set of lanyards, just in case and everything piece fits in its own custom molded cradle. We did have a few test divers worry about losing them, once you are under water they absolutely will not come off. Occasionally they would pop of and dangle on the lanyard during a giant stride, but they it is simple to re-stick and go.

There is elegance in the unseen software that drives these units also. Very few divers understand how difficult it is to communicate reliably underwater. Radio waves are useless even at short distances. You need to use ultra-sound, in this case 58 khz. But the ocean environment has is a soup of particles and barriers to sound wave and then you have the rocks, walls and other objects to bounce sound around. It is amazing that anything gets through. This little unit has 500 discreet channels for pairing with others and communication protocol that assumes and overcomes the pitfalls at every turn. It works reliably in confined spaces and is designed to avoid inadvertently being triggered by hair or bubbles.

At this $350 a set they are practically giving it away!

Although that sounds like a joke it is not. Consumers have come to expect little electronic wizards for pennies. But the BuddlyLink is different. Every part is made in the Americas. The parts are extremely expensive; costing over have the wholesale prices alone. Then each unit is built by hand in the US. Can the cost come down, maybe, but not likely very much with today’s technology. This is good example of why you do not see products like underwater GPS making it out of the prototype stage. So the reality is that they may be a pricey convenience, but if you dive a set for few dives you think about skipping a few lattes and get a set of BuddyLinks .

Robert jokingly mentioned that making and selling the BuddyLink would likely not even be feasible  if he did not have the financial freedom from his 95 other computer and bio-medical patents. Divers do buy them and they have only ever had one return. NASA uses them in the astronaut training pools. Robert said the sticker price does not seem to shock Europeans and Australians as much as US divers. They (EU and Aus) seem to buy higher end more expensive dive gear.

Even with the price, we give them 5 stars. So it’s seems like a luxury. After a few dives with them, you will be happy you splurged.