Graham Hawkes: The Innovation Interview

Graham Hawkes, an internationally renowned ocean engineer who is the Founder & Chief Technology Officer of Hawkes Ocean Technologies shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and deep sea exploration.

Graham has been responsible for the design of a significant percentage of all manned (and more than 300 remote) underwater vehicles built for research or industry worldwide, including the Wasp and Mantis Atmospheric Diving Suits, the Deep Rover research submersibles – which were recently featured in the James Cameron 3-D Imax film, “Aliens of the Deep,” and the Deep Flight series of winged submersibles. He is currently building the prototype for a new generation of highly advanced Remotely Operated Vehicles.

Mr. Hawkes has successfully founded and managed six high technology companies, including, Precision Remotes, Inc., which manufactures remote (land-based) systems for the military. Precision Remotes’ products were hailed by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2004; and Hawkes Ocean Technologies (HOT), which designs and builds the Deep Flight winged submersibles and other state of the art manned/unmanned vehicles for deep ocean exploration. HOT’s most recent projects include building a full ocean depth submersible, Deep Flight Challenger, for the late adventurer Steve Fossett; the Deep Flight Super Falcon submersibles — the first Super Falcon was delivered to venture capitalist, Tom Perkins; and the DeepFlight Merlin — the first Merlin was delivered to Sir Richard Branson.

Additionally, Mr. Hawkes runs Flight Schools for individual pilot training, as well as private expeditions for underwater flight experiences He has successfully led many ocean expeditions around the world, including, most recently the first baseline study beyond diver depths of the Gulf of Aqaba (Jordan), and the first DeepFlight submersible encounters with Great White Sharks off of Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

In the early 1990’s, Mr. Hawkes co-founded with Dr. Sylvia Earle Deep Ocean Engineering (DOE). In the 1980’s, Mr. Hawkes designed Sensory Manipulator Systems used by the U.S. Navy, NASA and AT&T for various industrial underwater vehicles. In 1989, Mr. Hawkes founded Deep Sea Discoveries (DSD), a commercial marine archeology company which located over 350 shipwrecks.

In the late 1970’s, Mr. Hawkes co-founded Offshore Systems Engineering (OSEL) in England, where he designed and managed the manufacturing of the atmospheric diving systems, the Wasp and Mantis. Previously, Mr. Hawkes refined the design of the atmospheric diving system, the JIM suit, for operation in depths of 2,000 feet. Prior to that, Mr. Hawkes was an engineer at Plessey Underwater Weapons Unit (UK), and before that, he was an Engineer at the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Graham Hawkes is widely considered to the leader in his field. In 1987, Mr. Hawkes was named an Associate Laureate for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise and in 1996 and 1997, he was nominated for Engineer of the Year by Design News. In 1997, Mr. Hawkes received Design News’ Special Achievement Award. In 1998, he was a finalist in the Discover Awards for Innovation; in 2000, Mr. Hawkes received the Computerworld Smithsonian Award (Science Category) which recognizes individuals and organizations who have demonstrated vision and leadership as they use information technology to benefit society; and Mr. Hawkes is the 2004 recipient of the Explorers Club William Beebe Quadrennial Award for Oceanography/Ocean Science. Most recently, in 2012, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Oceanology in recognition of his work in innovating new technologies for deep ocean exploration.

How do you define innovation, and what does it mean to you?

Innovation to me, means identifying a problem/need and coming up with a solution that didn’t exist before, and this solution addresses the problem better or at lower cost than any previous solutions.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

I believe banking and science could use more innovation and take more risks.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received?

My father told me not to gamble what I couldn’t afford to lose.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I believe my greatest achievement has been introducing the technology for underwater flight. Why – because Earth is a stupid name for an ocean planet, and we have been successful in developing technology to open this largest part of our planet for exploration. We have been able to take our work in this area the furthest — however, we are still at the early stages of this introduction, and who knows where it will lead to.

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Where does your love of the ocean come from?

My real love is engineering. The oceans offered me the wildest and rawest challenges for engineering.

What new technologies did you invent in order to make underwater flight a reality and how do you see underwater flight evolving for consumers and Governments?

Our work in this field doesn’t hinge on a single innovation. The new technologies we developed have been extremely broad — from life support, to materials, to electronics. We are not masters at all of these, but have proven adequate to incorporate all in a successful technology. We have also been successful in taking advantage of technologies developed for other fields, such as batteries for electric cars and materials developed for aerospace.

As far as how do we see underwater flight evolving — We believe that consumers will more and more be able to access underwater flight for their own enjoyment, and we see the power and potential of underwater flight as providing powerful tools for commerce and science.

As you continue to build and improve upon the DeepFlight submersibles design, are there plans to automate flight functions and /or launch deep water robots that humans can control from the submersible?

We do have an extensive unmanned program, however, we do not see unmanned probes being operated from manned vehicles simply because if you have to relay the information elsewhere, you might as well relay the information back to the surface. That said, unmanned operations from manned vehicles may have narrow applications. As far as automating our flight functions, these are off the shell add-ons that we can incorporate when and as needed.

Since underwater flight is such a unique experience that creates memorable moments, have hospitality companies inquired about adding underwater flight adventure programs to their resorts?

Yes, we have recognized this potential for several years now, and are just starting to be approached by governments and hospitality companies about offering underwater flight experiences.

Why do you think successful technology entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are so heavily focused on Space Exploration while the future of mankind could very well exist under the sea?

Beats me. I’ve said before, I think their rockets are pointing 180 degrees in the wrong direction. That said, they may very well see things/opportunities that we are not seeing. They have said they are looking to mine space for resources, however, this is an ocean planet, and the largest amount of resources are untapped, right here, under our own feet. I believe many people have a fundamental misunderstanding that we live on an ocean planet that is largely unexplored and undeveloped.