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"Subhuman Project" Human Powered Submarine 103

Posted by kdawson
from the something-fishy-this-way-comes dept.
overThruster writes "Inventor Ted Ciamillo and marine biologist Frank Fish (yes, that's his real name) are at work on a human-powered sub designed to cross the Atlantic. What's interesting is the highly efficient propulsion system which uses a 'tail' modeled after CAT scans of a dolphin's. From the article: 'Ciamillo and Fish say they knew they were onto something when the first prototype Lunocet, a piece of sculpted foam sandwiched between two pieces of carbon fiber, essentially swam by itself. When they released it at the bottom of a test pool, its buoyancy combined with its cambered shape generated a forward thrust that made it scoot across the tank.'"
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"Subhuman Project" Human Powered Submarine

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  • Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by immakiku (777365)
    I'd like to see, more than the sub itself, an in-depth discussion of the mechanism behind the dolphin's tail (the foam between carbon fiber).
  • With it being a water-filled system instead of an air-filled pressurized tube, I'd be interested in knowing how deep it can dive without squishing the person inside. The article says he's going to spend just over a month "living" in it at 2 meters underwater, but if they're going to call it a submarine, I'd like to see it go deeper than that.
    • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jamrock (863246) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:37AM (#26666735)

      if they're going to call it a submarine, I'd like to see it go deeper than that.

      Out of curiosity, how deep does a submersible have to be able to dive before you'd classify it as a submarine? Every dictionary I've checked only defines it, more or less, as a vessel capable of operating submerged; there is no mention whatsoever of a depth requirement to classify it as such.

    • Re:Diving Depth (Score:5, Informative)

      by SQLGuru (980662) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:40AM (#26666777) Journal

      From the article, he's going to dive to 20 meters for about 45 minutes periodically (full article link: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126936.900-across-the-ocean-in-a-pedalpowered-submarine.html?full=true [newscientist.com] scrollbar about 1/2 way).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wsanders (114993)

      I doesn't squish the person inside, the person inside is basically a SCUBA diver. The effects of depth on SCUBA divers is well known.

      I'm not sure how long you can stay down at 2 meters without decompressing, it's not on the dive tables since most divers dive further. I would guess you could stay a 2 meters all day without having to decompress on the way up.

      All day at more than 5 or 10 meters, or for any time at more than 10 meters, you'd have to start paying attention to decompression.

      At more than 30 meters

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Glonoinha (587375)

        US Navy Diver Charts say something to the effect of 'don't worry about decompression until you spend time below 32 feet (about 10 meters.)' Your tanks will run out of air before you've been down long enough (at 10 meters) to even consider decompression.

        For the record, 32 feet is roughly 1 atmosphere of pressure. If I recall correctly (which means 'maybe'.)

      • If he is breathing via a snorkel (I suspect a 2m long snorkel is going to be very hard work) then he won't get bends as he will be at atmospheric pressure, internally. He also says he's going to surface every night, so his maximum exposure is only one day.

    • but if they're going to call it a submarine, I'd like to see it go deeper than that.

      If they're going to call it a submarine, I'd like to see it able to operate underwater without a snorkel.

      • It can't use a snorkel unless it's at the surface. Water pressure would absolutely prevent the operator from breathing the uncompressed air through a tube at a depth greater than a few feet below surface. Try swimming to the bottom of a 9' swimming pool and then inhaling through a garden hose reaching to the surface. Won't stay down there for long, I can assure you.

        Seth
  • It should be interesting to see if the DHS chases this thing down as one of those evil drug running semi-submersibles, as they are now illegal (by U.S. law) to operate in international waters...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MightyYar (622222)

      one of those evil drug running semi-submersibles, as they are now illegal (by U.S. law) to operate in international waters...

      No, operating a "stateless" vessel is what will get you arrested. So long as they flag this thing, they'll be fine.

      I also doubt that they will scuttle the sub if intercepted by the navy.

    • by guruevi (827432)

      I don't know how the US hopes to enforce it's laws in INTERNATIONAL waters. In their own territory, sure but since the US didn't ratify the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea they (should) still abide by the olden laws of the high seas which allowed for everybody to do whatever they want except for 'enemies of mankind' which are mainly pirates and slave traders. Even under the new conventions they would have to abide by the laws of or deliver them to the country which flag the vessel flies under.

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by billcopc (196330)

        Since when does the U.S. respect foreign laws on foreign territory ? What... you think the rest of the world hates the U.S. just because it's trendy ? No! They hate because the U.S. government is an obnoxious self-righteous bully that still acts like it owns the damned planet.

        The fact that they often get away with it, however, is an international failure. The "victims" deserve full blame for not holding U.S. envoys responsible for their actions.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dotancohen (1015143)

          They hate because the U.S. government is an obnoxious self-righteous bully that still acts like it owns the damned planet.

          To be fair, the US only acts like it owns the bioshpere.

        • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

          by c6gunner (950153)

          What... you think the rest of the world hates the U.S. just because it's trendy ?

          Yes. For every complaint made about the US, there are about a dozen countries which do the same or worse. Global opinions are like a large-scale version of your highschool social dynamics - it's not so much what you do that matters, as what your reputation currently happens to be.

      • by revery (456516)

        I'm assuming that their argument(not that I agree with it) would be that it is inter national waters, not inter personal . If you are operating under the authority of a recognized nation, they won't mess with you, otherwise you are a pirate. I believe it's always been legal to pursue pirates (with said pirates (I assume) being identified by some means other than parrots, peg legs, and Jolly Rogers)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DragonWriter (970822)

        In their own territory, sure but since the US didn't ratify the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea they (should) still abide by the olden laws of the high seas which allowed for everybody to do whatever they want except for 'enemies of mankind' which are mainly pirates and slave traders.

        The US considers almost the entirety of UNCLOS to be binding as declarative of customary international law; its objection to ratification centers pretty much entirely on the parts related to undersea mining in internationa

        • Please don't interrupt the US bashing with any facts.

          From the GP:

          I don't know how the US hopes to enforce it's laws in INTERNATIONAL waters.

          It's called a carrier battle group.

  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Friday January 30, 2009 @10:48AM (#26666133)
    Er, "fricken' laser beams, I mean...
  • by DisplacedJoshua (919071) on Friday January 30, 2009 @10:52AM (#26666167)
    Scientists eaten by sharks. "They looked delicious" - JAWS
    • by powerlord (28156)

      Scientists eaten by sharks. "They looked delicious" - JAWS

      "Tasted just like Flipper!" - JAWS II

  • And at (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Friday January 30, 2009 @10:53AM (#26666183) Journal

    Overheard at Frank's (yes, that's his real name) retirement: "So long, and thanks for all, Fish."

  • "uses a 'tail' modeled after CAT scans of a dolphin's"

    Let's hope it doesn't get caught by a trawler fishing for tuna.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by conureman (748753)

      What I first thought of, looking at the pix, was that we'd use this to scientifically test for the presence of really big sharks. Good luck out there, buddy.

      • by holmstar (1388267)

        Actually, I would be more worried about the fact that the motion of the tail has to have a corresponding motion of the body of the sub... Rocking back and forth like that could cause "under the sea sickness"... *urp* which could be really bad when you are wearing scuba equipment.

        Then again, even if you managed not to fill your regulator with chicken sandwich while getting sick, you would be chumming the waters... attracting those sharks you were talking about.

  • full article (Score:5, Informative)

    by ianare (1132971) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:01AM (#26666299)
    full article [newscientist.com]
    STOP posting multipage versions of articles !!!
    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      I'm sure by now some submitters must have posted full page versions to the main story.

      My guess is that the editors replaced it with a multipage version because they didn't want to piss off the people running the sites. After all, couldn't they make it more difficult for Slashdot to view articles if they wanted to (redirects for incoming URLs from Slashdot's IP(s))?

      Considering how often it happens and how much most of us hate it, it's probably SlashPolicy.

  • Carbon and sculpted foam? What the hell? I've been wasting freaking decades and tens of thousands of dollars on DeLoreans for my time machine. Guess I'll head out to Walmart in my ADD-enhanced attempt to break fundamental laws of physics.

  • Let's hear it for Nominative Determinism! [wikipedia.org]
    And he's not the only Mr Fish in Marine Biology.
  • Sounds fun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xest (935314) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:13AM (#26666435)

    But is it really any use? If it moves in a direction when started from the bottom of the tank is it actually of any practical use? presumably it's only the buoyancy action combined with it's shape that thrust it forward such that if you start it near the surface it wont do anything.

    Effectively rather than forward motion, does this only offer diagonal upwards motion? i.e. can it work without being started some distance below the surface?

    I'm not sure crossing the atlantic would be that fun if you have to be dragged to the ocean floor repeatedly and launched diagonally upwards in the general direction.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      RTFA and use your brain. It is actively powered normally. The comment about moving by itself is just to indicate how efficient the device is with even slow moving water passing over the tail (in this case, caused by the buoyant motion).
    • Re:Sounds fun (Score:4, Informative)

      by JustNilt (984644) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:30AM (#26666655) Homepage

      The point is that the buoyancy allowed it to float up a bit, causing water to flow over the propulsion surfaces. That flow, however slight, moved the sub forward. That's actually rather impressive, considering most subs sink like a freaking rock or bob like a log (depending on their buoyancy) instead of moving forward while bobbing slightly. The speed of said forward motion wasn't stated that I saw but it speaks to the fact that it ought to work. Now to see if ti works as well as they think it will.

      • by c6gunner (950153)

        The point is that the buoyancy allowed it to float up a bit, causing water to flow over the propulsion surfaces. That flow, however slight, moved the sub forward. That's actually rather impressive, considering most subs sink like a freaking rock or bob like a log (depending on their buoyancy) instead of moving forward while bobbing slightly.

        Except that's not what happened. They're talking about just the propulsion mechanism / fin, which has already been marketed as a separate product - the Lunocet [lunocet.com].

      • The point is that the buoyancy allowed it to float up a bit, causing water to flow over the propulsion surfaces. That flow, however slight, moved the sub forward.

        And while that sounds impressive - it's meaningless and trivial to accomplish. Nor is it a breakthrough, as diving/gliding submarines like this are rediscovered every couple of years for a couple of decades now. They turn out not to work in practice because they either take a lot of energy to submerge against the buoyancy required, or they requir

  • by sirwired (27582) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:16AM (#26666491)

    This is not a submarine. This is a boat that happens to float two meters below the surface of the water.

    Depth control consists of him swimming to the surface, filling a bladder with air, and then attaching it to the sub.

    And I'm not impressed with his claims that it practically "swam by itself." Getting something to move horizontally when provided with vertical buoyancy and travel is not exactly what one would call difficult, and it has nothing to do with how efficient the boat is or isn't under power.

    SirWired

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JustNilt (984644)

      Depth control consists of him swimming to the surface, filling a bladder with air, and then attaching it to the sub

      I didn't see that stated in the article. My impression was more that they'd use some of the compressed air in the scuba tanks, or perhaps a different dedicated tank, to accomplish this. The fact is that wet subs aren't all that uncommon.

      Personally, I'd call this one a submersible, rather than a submarine. A submarine is typically much more autonomous than this thing would be (TFA states he'd have a chase boat for air tanks, etc).

      • by LurkerXXX (667952)

        Wet subs aren't that uncommon, but they are generally propelled by electric motors, etc. They don't usually use human power. He's going to be working against the resistance of the water he's surrounded in. He'd have to do a LOT less work in a transoceanic journey if he was only fighting air resistance and not water resistance.

    • When I was a kid I used to buy these little delta winged Styrofoam airplanes at the dime store. The were meant to be launched via a rubber band and a small tab on their underside. However I used to play with them in my grandfather's pool instead. I'd go down to the bottom in the deep end, flip the "plane" upside down, and release. Result? It traveled nearly the length of the pool straight as a string and fairly quickly before surfacing. It was a pretty neat discovery for me as a small child :-)

      So, I too am

  • Not Entirely Human (Score:5, Interesting)

    by camperdave (969942) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:18AM (#26666525) Journal
    He plans to pedal 2 metres below the surface all day, coming up only at night when he will sleep in a tent erected on the top of the sub. If the wind is blowing in the right direction he'll fly a kite to gain a few extra miles while he sleeps.

    So, it looks like they'll be supplementing human power with wind power. That's kind of disappointing.

    'Ciamillo and Fish say they knew they were onto something when the first prototype Lunocet, a piece of sculpted foam sandwiched between two pieces of carbon fiber, essentially swam by itself.

    Yes, that's called gliding. It happens whenever a thin flat surface moves freely through a fluid. Aeroplanes and gliders use this all the time. The keel on a sailboat and the rudder on a ship use the same principle. Many autonomous underwater vehicles use buoyancy gliding as a method of propulsion. Increase the density of the robot by compressing an air bladder, and the robot sinks. Fins convert the vertical drop into a forward glide. Expand the air bladder, the robot gets less dense and rises. Again the fins convert the vertical motion into forward motion.
    • So, it looks like they'll be supplementing human power with wind power. That's kind of disappointing.

      Maybe for you, but I'm glad they've finally found a use for my uncontrollable flatulence. (You insensitive clod!)

    • Conceivably, he could inflate the bladders and glide forward as he ascends, then deflate the bladders and glide forward as he descends - with a support boat supplying fresh compressed air every night.....
  • by SebaSOFT (859957)

    ...fishy here. (I'm sorry I had to do it) But won't he get tired to death before leaving the first 200 miles off-shore? Fishes give up migrations all the time, can't you?

  • There are a couple of comments on the new scientist site about his skin probably blistering off due to being submerged in a wetsuit for that long. Ouch.
  • We all live in a human-powered submarine,
    human-powered submarine,
    human-powered submarine!
    Yes, the drugs are responsible for this album,
    responsible for this album,
    responsible for this album.

    • Dolphin's tail is my
      plan for submarine
      plan for submarine
      plan for submarine

      Using foam is
      the way to keep it cheap
      the way to keep it cheap
      the way to keep it cheap

      And our friends love making tails
      There's no way
      That we can fail
      And there's air inside our tanks
      (HORN SECTION GO!)

  • Stainless steel wire instead of something like Spectra or Dyneema? What about the motion losses from pedaling under water? Why bother with this crap of crossing the ocean, when it's clear he'll have a chase boat with provisions, etc? Obviously he can't stay in the water for 50+ days. Seems like there were a lot of very bad engineering decisions made on this thing. In addition, I can't believe he'd suggest going under water only a meter or two in the ocean. Does he now how large the waves get, and what
    • by Wraithlyn (133796)

      Obviously he can't stay in the water for 50+ days. [...] what will happen if he hits any type of real weather out there?

      RTFA

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Obviously he can't stay in the water for 50+ days. Seems like there were a lot of very bad engineering decisions made on this thing. In addition, I can't believe he'd suggest going under water only a meter or two in the ocean. Does he now how large the waves get, and what will happen if he hits any type of real weather out there?

      What I'm curious about is how he's going to keep his skin from dissolving after being in salt water for almost two months.

  • Jingo is not his best book by far, but he has in it a human powered submarine with a tail that imitates a dolphin.
  • by Bastard of Subhumani (827601) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:58AM (#26667029) Journal
    I claim prior art! Hell, I am prior art!
  • But the "untermensch u-boot" wasn't a big success.

  • It went by the name of:

    Self Contained Underwater Breathing Aparatus.

    It was air tight, contained an airsupply, and was powered by my moving my legs.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hope they have better luck than the human-powered Hunley, a Confederate sub that sank a US ship then itself sank on the way back in. First sub to sink a warship!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.L._Hunley

  • I think the propulsion system would be much more efficient if the occupant's body wasn't surrounded by water while he/she pedals.
  • Isn't it very unhealthy for your skin to spend that much time submerged in sea water.

    Not to mention it can't be that comfortable, hypothermia issues?

    • He has to be submerged for more than a month. There's got to be some real nasty side effects to this. Furthermore, it's sort of like a zero G environment so there may be some negative impact there as well.
      • by danzona (779560)
        From TFA: He expects the journey to take 50 days, but at night (weather and sea conditions and giant sea monsters permitting) the sub will float on the surface and he will be sleeping in a tent erected on top of the sub.
      • by fotbr (855184)

        Being underwater while in a submarine is nothing like a zero-g environment. Just ask any number of men who have served in submarines around the world. Several countries have missile subs that spent 3+ months at a time submerged.

        Astronauts use water tanks for training because they allow a greater range of movement, but the only reason it works is because everything that needs those degrees of freedom is adjusted to be neutrally buoyant, but they are not experiencing zero-g.

  • If Ciamillo's design work with bicycle parts is any indicator of his talent as an engineer, they'll pull this one off.

    I'm fortunate enough to have a pair of his Zero Gravity (0G-Ti) brakes on my road bike, and they're insanely light (the pair weighs less than a Dura-Ace front caliper) and have been pleasant to work on, and require very little maintenance.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Does his middle name begin with "N"?

  • "When they released it at the bottom of a test pool, its buoyancy combined with its cambered shape generated a forward thrust that made it scoot across the tank."

    OK--I'll bet it stopped going forward right around the time it got to the surface of the water.

  • How time flies... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pongo000 (97357) on Friday January 30, 2009 @03:54PM (#26670475)

    It's interesting to compare this latest reincarnation of the human-powered sub to the eight-man, candle-lit Hunley [wikipedia.org] that (briefly) prowled the waters off the coast of South Carolina during the (U.S.) Civil War.

  • Should any disaster strike, or shark bite the fin off, I wonder, if the sub, would plummet to the bottom of the ocean as a real fish would without its fin, did they think to come up with possible alternative plan in case, cuz' it ain't like stepping out and changing a flat tire!!!

  • So, in collaboration with marine biologist Frank Fish of West Chester University in Pennsylvania, who specialises in...

    A guy named Frank Fish decided to be a marine biologist? How original.
  • had an ad in them for a submarine human powered...

    PRIOR ART!!!

  • On a similar and yet much cooler note, I encourage everyone to visit www.Expedition360.com , a most awesome site about a brits attempt to circumnavigate the globe only via unsuplemented human power. Read through the entire diary and you'll feel like you've read a great and fufilling book. Highly, highly recommended.

  • I remember seeing an analysis of what this is on TV. No anchor links, but just do a find on "Subhuman".

    http://www.thetick.ws/tvvillains.html [thetick.ws]

  • Frankly, this sounds a ted fishy... A dolphin-based submarine?!

Those who do things in a noble spirit of self-sacrifice are to be avoided at all costs. -- N. Alexander.

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