Clear-Com, CellCom Dive Into the Deep Blue at Steinhart Aquarium

Clear-Com’s CellCom digital wireless intercom system is helping Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences create an epic underwater experience for visitors. At the recently rebuilt San Francisco  institution, the system enables the diver-presenters of its popular Philippine Coral Reef dive shows to chat with audience members while immersed in up to 25 ft. of water.

Each CellCom base station features six independent audio ports, allowing audio to be routed between the audience members and diver-presenters. The diver’s facemask is equipped with two tiny headphones and a microphone, connected by special underwater tube to a CellCom beltpack near the tank. A presenter on the other side of the glass has a microphone connected, via the CellCom base station, to the same communications channel as the diver and, when audience members ask the diver questions, can hear them through the headphones and respond using the underwater microphone.

“It’s very impressive that the Steinhart Aquarium can do so much with one CellCom base station,” says Dave Kaufman, senior project manager for systems integrator BBI Engineering and a volunteer diver. “It covers two basically independent exhibits, as well as other areas of the facility, and all we needed to do was install antennas in those areas. It’s a different use than what is usually done with a CellCom intercom system, but it’s worked out really well, especially considering it is a two-way communications system.”

The Philippine Coral Reef Dive show diver is fully under water, necessitating the additional element of a dive tender, who monitors the diver’s air levels from the surface of the tank. The dive tender also handles the CellCom beltpack used for the underwater communications, speaking with the diver on a channel separate from the audience.

Since much of the aquarium experience involves looking through clear water, most gear cannot have wires or cables. “Any cables on the surface and underwater need to be minimal both for aesthetic and safety reasons. We aren’t working behind the scenes here; everything is right in front of the guests, so it has to be presentable and safe for our volunteers,” says Dave Chan, dive safety officer and biologist at Steinhart Aquarium. “The Clear-Com CellCom intercom system fits this requirement, works well with the diving gear, and is also simple to learn. Ease of use is important because we have a volunteer pool of about 50 people, and they need to be able to learn to use the system quickly.”

The aquarium expects its volunteer base to grow to roughly 60, increasing the number of users of its CellCom system. In addition to the Philippine Coral Reef dive shows, the academy also uses CellCom, with a Clear-Com headset, for its African Penguin feeding shows and for the project lab, where scientists perform dissections on scientific specimens for public view.