Students set sights on human-powered submarine speed record


April 4, 2013

Students at the Universities of Warwick and Bath have shared knowledge of submarine design (Photo: University of Warwick)

Students at the Universities of Warwick and Bath have shared knowledge of submarine design (Photo: University of Warwick)

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Students at the University of Warwick have announced their intention to build a human-powered submarine to compete at that highlight of the human-powered submarine events calendar, the European International Submarine Races in 2014. The team of engineering students hopes that their vessel, already named HPS Shakespeare, will beat the current speed record for a single-seat human-powered sub.

To achieve this feat, HPS Shakespeare will need to better a speed of 7.03 knots (13.02 km/h), the record set by a sub named Omer 8. That boat was built by the students of École de Technologie Supérieure in Montreal, Canada (surely one of the finest conceivable names for a school of its kind). The record was set at the inaugural European International Submarine Races in June 2012. The school lived up to its name at the event, also setting speed records in the two-seater and one-seater/non-propeller categories, as well as taking the overall grand prize, awarded based on a formula that accounts for all judged criteria.

"Speed and maneuverability"

"There are a multitude of challenges we face in the design, manufacture and testing of the submarine as well as organizational aspects such as sponsorship and costing," project leader Cole Soutter said in a University of Warwick press release. "But the biggest challenge is putting it all together to produce a submarine that has both speed and maneuverability to take on competitors whilst having the agility to navigate the slalom course. We hope our entry emerges victorious in the race and in at least one of the award categories for speed, agility and innovation."

The added slalom gates will be a first at next year's event, upping the maneuverability stakes significantly.

Though it appears that that the team will compete with another from the U.K.'s University of Bath, the two universities have collaborated to share knowledge on submarine design. Bath's Minverva sub finished third in the grand prize category in 2012, behind Florida Atlnatic University's Talon 1.

Designing a submarine

A poster shared via the team's Facebook page reveals more details about the design. According to this, the submarine's hull will not be watertight, meaning the pilot will be kitted out in SCUBA gear. The pilot will lie horizontally in the sub in order to maximize underwater power transfer, pedaling to power the propellers at the rear. Iteratively testing the craft's overall shape using SolidWorks Flow, the team arrived at a teardrop shape design, with a length to width ratio between the ideal zone of 4:1 and 8:1.

Safety features are high on the agenda. The design looks set to include both an escape hatch, and a dead man's switch in the the steering mechanism. This will be a simple bicycle brake in the steering mechanism which, when released, will deploy an alert buoy. The sub will also be equipped with a strobe light to make it easy to spot underwater.

The team is yet to decide upon materials, but is considering aluminum alloys and thermoplastic resins, but is also keen to investigate more environmentally-friendly materials. The team is also exploring biomimetics, including the possibility of ridged leading edges on the craft's pectoral fins, like those of a humpback whale.

No sleep till Gosport

The event will once again take place at QinetiQ's Ocean Basin facility in Gosport, U.K., an indoor pool measuring 122 by 61 meters with a depth of 5.5 meters (400 by 200 by 18 feet).

The Warwick team is currently seeking sponsorship to secure the manufacture of HPS Shakespeare (HPS, by the way, stands for human-powered submarine). Time will tell if HPS Shakespeare has what it takes to become Grand Scuba (No – Ed) of the human-powered subs.

Source: University of Warwick (press release, project page)

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

It has always been a mystery to me that submarine racing is not top of the list when it comes to exciting spectator sports.

Mel Tisdale

Wait! You mean that submarine races are REAL?!?!? All the older boys in high school told me it was a euphemism know.

Bruce H. Anderson
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