Celebrity Invention: James Cameron's Underwater Dolly

celebrityinvention.jpgSome celebrities aren't just pretty faces. A few of them are also touched with that Yankee prowess for tinkering and invention. In this weekly series, we introduce you to the Patents of the Rich and Famous. And maybe you learn a little bit about how patent literature works along the way.

Inventor: James Cameron

Known For: Cameron wrote and directed his way to fame, beginning with the 1980s sci-fi thriller The Terminator. After that he pumped out some more hits -- Aliens, Terminator 2, True Lies -- throughout the 80s and early 90s.

And then there was Titanic, which basically broke the box office. As if grossing over $600 million weren't enough, the film went on to tie Ben-Hur for the most Academy Awards (11) given to one film, including the Best Picture award, making it one of the highest-grossing Best Picture Oscar winners.

And, while the movie cost around $200 million to make, it was well worth it because for 12 years it held the title as the highest-grossing movie of all time. That was until another super-expensive, super-successful James Cameron film -- Avatar -- knocked it down to number two.

Even though Cameron is pretty good at making critically-acclaimed blockbuster films, after Titanic's success, it took him 12 years to release his next directorial project. What exactly was Cameron doing for all of those years?

Well, apparently the time that he spent surrounded by water filming a movie about a sunken ship inspired the next decade of his life. Not only did he get into undersea documentaries -- Expedition: Bismark, Ghosts of the Abyss -- but he also invented an underwater contraption.

Invented Apparatus: "Apparatus for propelling a user in an underwater environment"

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Cameron has gone underwater with his profession. By attaching propellers to a dolly, Cameron created a diving suit that allows a camera operator to move effortlessly through the water while filming his surroundings, regardless of his direction of travel. It's put together like this:

The apparatus comprises a hull assembly for maintaining the apparatus at the desired level of buoyancy. The hull assembly for propelling the apparatus through the water. The thruster means are positionable at the desired angular orientation relative to the longitudinal axis of the hull assembly. The hull assembly is angularly oriented independently of the direction of the movement of the apparatus. Means are provided for connecting the thruster means to the hull assembly.

Rationale Behind Invention: Given that Cameron has spent much of his film-making career surrounded by water, he found a void in the underwater camera industry:

For underwater photographic purposes, there has been a long felt need to have a personal propulsion vehicle with increased maneuverability. Specifically, there has been a need for a vehicle which has the capability of aiming the lens of an attached underwater movie camera in one direction while the device, as a unit, is being propelled in another flight attitude. Such capabilities have been lacking in current propulsion vehicles, resulting in cinematic limitations for underwater photography.

The invention gives the camera operator better positioning to best capture underwater scenes.

Off-Label Uses: As the patent explains, the propelled-dolly concept isn't limited to underwater filming. It can be used for other underwater events:

Although particularly adaptable for use with underwater cameras, it is understood that this vehicle is not limited to such a function and may be used for any type of recreational or utilitarian purpose in which enhanced maneuverability and ease in travel is desired.

Future Directions: We're thinking this contraption needs a waterproof GPS to guide Cameron to his next underwater documentary: Atlantis.

Peruse more celebrity inventions.

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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