ExoLung promises indefinite underwater breathing with a swim-powered lung

Ever dreamed of being Aquaman? No, there’s no instant way to get the muscular physique, effortless charm and charisma, or A-list paychecks of Jason Momoa. But Austrian startup ExoLung thinks it’s cracked the whole “breathing indefinitely underwater” thing. The company has developed diving technology it thinks could replace the need for a limited duration compressed air tank — by using your own swimming body motion to keep you appropriately oxygenated.

ExoLung uses a buoy that floats on top of the water as both a safety restraint and for taking in air. A 16-foot hose then connects the buoy to a collapsible water bladder attached to the diver’s feet, via leg straps. As the diver kicks their legs in a breaststroke-style swim, the straps pull on the bladder, which sucks in air like a lung. The straps relax between leg extensions, using water pressure to compress the air so that it can be inhaled.

exolung underwater breathing device diagram

“To understand the ExoLung working principle it is necessary to understand the basic issues of underwater breathing,” Jörg Tragatschnig, ExoLung’s designer, told Digital Trends. “Basically one cannot breathe underwater through a hose longer than approximately 50cm because the increasing water pressure on one’s body doesn’t allow the chest to widen while inhaling. As a result, the only way to breath underwater is to get one’s chest pumped up from inside, against the ambient water pressure, with the help of pressurized air. The human diaphragm and chest muscles are too weak to suck air in against the water pressure.”

ExoLung serves as an external artificial lung (see where that name came from!), with the diaphragm connected to the diver’s strong leg muscles as a substitute for the weak human lung muscles underwater. This does, of course, mean that it would be necessary to continue swimming the whole time, lest you get your oxygen supply cut off. But that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Right now, the ExoLung is still in development. “The product still needs to be industrialized; that’s why there are no products available,” Tragatschnig said. “There are only two prototypes existing currently. If I find an industry partner soon, I estimate that it would take a minimum of one year until the ExoLung can be made available on the market.”

A brilliant solution to a problem or over-engineered pipe dream? We’ll wait until we can try it before knowing for sure.

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