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CHIPS Articles: Human Power: Young Engineers Pedal Their Way to Underwater Dominance

Human Power: Young Engineers Pedal Their Way to Underwater Dominance
By Sierra Jones, Office of Naval Research - July 13, 2017
ARLINGTON, Va.—What do a shark, coffin and ice cream cone have in common? They’re all student-built, human-powered submarines—and they competed in the 14th biennial International Submarine Races (ISR), recently held at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Carderock Division, in Bethesda, Maryland.

ISR—co-hosted by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), NSWC Carderock and the Naval Sea System Command’s Team Submarine —is a biennial event where participants design, build and race one- or two-person, human-powered submarines down a 328-feet underwater course in the David Taylor Model Basin. The races are organized by the Foundation for Underwater Research and Education as an international competition with six countries competing.

The basin is the Navy’s longest tow-tank—about 3,200-feet long—and is the largest freshwater hydrodynamic test facility in the world.

According to Kurt Yankaskas, ISR executive director and ONR program officer, the basin is typically used for submarine and surface ship testing, but it also provides a unique course for the next generation of engineers to showcase their ocean and marine engineering design skill sets.

“To tackle this challenge, participants must have a solid foundation in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and maritime principles,” said Yankaskas.

These maritime principles include buoyancy, propulsion, hydrodynamic design, guidance systems, underwater life support, or SCUBA, and systems engineering, to name a few. They also talked to and watched Navy divers in action from the Naval Experimental Dive Unit in Panama City, Florida.

“From the design to construction to in-water operations, these students have the knowledge and skills to tackle this challenge,” said Yankaskas. “They are an exceptional group—some of the most capable, brightest and talented students you will find in the world—and they are just who we need to keep innovation flowing for the future Navy and Marine Corps workforce.”

This year’s ISR saw 22 teams from around the globe compete for various cash prizes. The overall performance winner went to team OMER X, from the École de Technologie Supérieure in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Sussex County Technical School from New Jersey won the award for innovation for their sub Umptysquatch 8, and SUBLIME from Hernando County Schools in Springstead, Florida, came away with the absolute speed award of 5.77 knots—or nearly seven miles per hour.

Additional awards went to the University of Warwick for best design outline and best use of composite materials; the smooth operator award was presented to Sussex County Technical School; and École de Technologie Supérieure won the best spirit of the races award.

U.S. teams included: A.C. Mosely High School; Florida Atlantic University; Florida Polytechnic University, Kids Into Discovering Science, a nonprofit organization; Old Saybrook High School; Texas A&M University; University of California San Diego; University of Michigan; University of Washington; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

International teams included: Canada’s École Polytechnique de Montreal, University of British Columbia and the University of Waterloo; England’s University of Bath, University of Southampton; India’s S.B. Jain Institute of Technology, Management and Research, Mexico’s Universidad Veracruzana; and the Netherland’s Delft University of Technology.

Sierra Jones is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.

Check Out the 2017 Naval Future Force S&T Expo! Registration is now open for the 2017 Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo, cosponsored by the Office of Naval Research and American Society of Naval Engineers. Scheduled for Jul. 20-21, the Expo is the Navy’s premier event to share information; discuss research opportunities; and build science and technology partnerships between the Navy and Marine Corps, industry and academia.

What: The Naval Future Force S&T Expo is the Navy’s premier event to share information, discuss research opportunities, and build science and technology partnerships between the Navy and Marine Corps, industry and academia. Held every two years, the event draws thousands of attendees from around the world.
When: Jul. 20-21, 2017
Where: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW, Washington, D.C., 20001
To register: Visit

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