Submarine races might get snickers from some groups, but for many engineering students, sub races are serious business. More than a dozen teams competed in a race earlier this year, setting a speed record.
The International Submarine Races, started by volunteer groups in 1989, were held in the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division David Taylor Model Basin in Bethesda, MD in July. "Some of the early races were held in the ocean, which is exciting, but you don't get to do as many races or learn as much in the ocean," says Bob Randall, professor of ocean engineering at Texas A&M. His team raced more than 20 times this year, compared to two oceanic races, often slowed by bad weather.
Student teams, which average 20-25 students, work a year or more to tweak human-powered subs, generally as an extracurricular activity. Most teams include oceanic, marine, and mechanical engineers, though electronic and computer engineers sometimes get involved. The fastest sub, from the University of Quebec, surpassed 7 knots and had a computer-aided, variable pitch propeller.
Most challenges are hydrodynamic and mechanical. "Hull design has to be symmetrical so no forces cause the sub to go off course. It's also a challenge to come up with a propeller drive system that matches humans, who want to pedal at 40-60 rpm, with a drive system that turns the propeller three or four times faster," Randall says.
The next international race will occur in 2007, though many of the teams will participate in the newer Human Powered Submarine Contest in Escondido, CA, in July, 2006. It's co-sponsored by the ASME and IEEE, among others. For more info, visit http://rbi.ims.ca/4396-538.