March 20, 2015
UW and local company unveil new five-person submarine
The University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory and Everett-based company OceanGate this month unveiled the first model of its joint project to build a new type of submarine for human research and exploration in the deep sea.
Cyclops 1 was a developed over the past year and a half in the Applied Physics Lab’s co-laboratory space down by the Ship Canal. OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush introduced the vessel and gave tours of the inside March 11 on the dock of Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry.
“Besides the obvious Jacques Cousteau element, what excites me the most is the collaboration,” said Bob Miyamoto, the Applied Physics Lab’s director of industry and defense programs.
The Applied Physics Laboratory has carried out projects for the U.S. Navy, but this is its first dip into building a vehicle that can take humans far below the water’s surface. Miyamoto enjoyed the experience of working with a local commercial client.
“It wasn’t that Stockton said to us ‘build a submarine,'” Miyamoto said. “We designed it together, and we built it together.”
Cyclops 1 goes down to 1,640 feet (half a kilometer) with one pilot and up to four passengers who can look out the vehicle’s single big window. The submarine uses mostly off-the-shelf commercial thrusters and other components.
The hull design is new, developed by OceanGate and UW engineers. This vehicle has a pressure hull built from steel, while two future models due in 2016 will be built from carbon fiber to create a lighter vessel that can travel to deeper depths.
Also novel is a brand new control system using a Sony PlayStation wireless controller. David Dyer, an engineer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, made the controller direct the vessel’s buoyancy and thrusters, and more elements may be connected over time.
“We had more discussions about this than any other aspect,” Miyamoto said. The current vehicle will offer an opportunity to test and refine the controller system, which is built to adapt over time and to changing technologies.
The submersible will be at the company’s headquarters in Everett for the next couple of months, then will travel to the Gulf of Mexico to witness the underwater flower gardens summer bloom, its first stop on a 2015 kickoff tour.
The vehicle is eventually intended to be rented to clients for research, resource exploration, photography or even tourism, at a cost that would be higher than today’s shallow-water subs but lower than the single-person subs now available only to very wealthy explorers.
Miyamoto said traveling in an OceanGate submarine, which he first did a few years ago to test sonar technology for the Applied Physics Laboratory, is quite different from the more common experience of scuba diving.
“It’s like being in a huge aquarium,” Miyamoto said. “It’s amazing.”