Engineers' submarine takes international prize

Fifteen students, $1,500 and nine months work produce winner

by Andy Poon staff writer

When asked what they did this summer, a group of UBC engineering students can claim to having bested the field in an international submarine design competition.

UBC's entry in the annual Human Powered Submarine Design Contest in San Diego, Calif. was the fastest vehicle in the two-person, propeller-driven class with a winning time of 3.066 knots (5.7 kilometres per hour).

The contest, sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, encourages students to apply engineering theory to practice. Nine teams from across the U.S. and Canada took part.

"Students get a tremendous amount of experience designing real systems with an event like this," says Doug Chambers, 22, the UBC team captain. "We're responsible for setting timelines and meeting goals to get the job done."

Fifteen Mechanical Engineering students poured nine months of their free time into work on the submarine--four months on design and five months on manufacturing the sub. Chambers estimates that each member devoted 50 hours a month on the project.

"The reason we back this as a department is because of the design and organizational experience that the students get," says Mechanical Engineering Prof. Sander Calisal, the team's faculty adviser. "We supervise them, but everything is their brainchild--they go from step zero to step 100, they organize the travel, the budget, everything. They do all the work and they deserve all the credit."

The team's winning design consists of a 3.6-metre fibreglass and resin hull encasing an aluminum space frame. The vessel is propeller-powered by an operator pedalling in the rear of the submarine while another steers the boat.

The operators are completely submerged in water and must wear scuba gear to run the sub.

Completely computer-designed, the sub was manufactured by the students with $1,500 from the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the Mechanical Engineering Dept. and the Engineering Undergraduate Society.

Chambers says that there were teams at the competition that had submarines worth as much as $35,000. He hopes to boost the team's fund-raising efforts this year with an eye to submitting an improved model of the sub at next year's competition.

A demonstration of the winning sub will take place at UBC's Empire Pool Sept. 23. For more information, call 221-7051.