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12th International Submarine Races

An expanded field of contestants and steady advances in subsea technology were highlights of the 12th International Submarine Races (ISR), with the consistently-winning Canadian team from the University of Quebec's École de Technologie Supérieur continuing to demonstrate engineering design leadership.

The races were held June 24 to 28 at the U. S. Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division David Taylor Model Basin in Bethesda, Maryland, with 19 teams submitting 21 submarines from throughout the world, competing for prizes, academic recognition and personal achievement. The human-powered submarine teams came from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Oman. The biennial event, launched initially in 1989, challenges the engineering creativity of college, high-school and independent students, inventors and entrepreneurs. The race awards are categorized by one- or two-person subs, propeller or nonpropeller driven, and college/university, high-school or independent teams.

The ISR is produced by the Foundation for Underwater Research and Education (FURE) and hosted by the U.S. Navy's Naval Surface Weapons Center, Carderock Division. The competition is intended to assess the engineering skills of the participants and encourage career interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Many of the contestants see this event as a springboard for their professional careers in navy/maritime engineering.

The world's fastest human-powered submarine team hails from the University of Quebec's École de Technologie Supérieur in Montréal, Canada. The team's submarine, Omer 8, once again turned in the winning speed in the one-person, propeller-driven category at 7.28 knots. This new speed mark, which won the Absolute Speed Award, was achieved by pilot David Barry and team captain Emeric Robert. Team Omer's current world record stands at 8.03 knots, set by Omer 6 in the two-person propeller category in June 2007, a speed most enthusiasts previously considered unachievable by human-powered submarines.

Submarine race leaders and judges praised the innovation of Team Omer's latest submarine, awarding it both the Speed award and the prize for Overall Performance. The Overall Performance Award included a cash prize of $2,000, sponsored by the Ocean Engineering Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Intelligent Decisions Inc. of Ashburn, Virginia. Omer's team worked for two years to refine and improve their sub's performance.

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) won the Absolute Speed Award in the women's subcategory, racing in Talon 1 at 5.5 knots, along with third-place recognition in the one-person, propeller-driven, colleges/universities division, with a speed of 6.55 knots. FAU also won a $300 prize and trophy for the Best Use of Composite Materials for their second submarine, FAU-BOAT II. The award was given for a new material comprising basalt and fiberglass, which has a higher strength-to-weight ratio compared to standard fiberglass and is significantly easier to lay up.

Prizes also were awarded for the most successful examples of design and construction. The Best Design Outline Award, sponsored by Compass Publications Inc., was won by Sussex County Technical High School of Sparta, New Jersey. First place for the Innovation Award went to Virginia Tech for Phantom 6, which a tandem-seated pilot and copilot, and a single transmission to power two propellers equally. Virginia Tech received a trophy and a $1,500 cash prize, contributed by Intelligent Decisions. Second place went to the University of Washington's Laurie Belle, which had a modular system with all components mounted on a single structural member secured to the submarine with two bolts at each end. Third place for Innovation was presented to Omer 8, which had a single-bladed propeller with a counterweight for balance and a hull designed around the human propulsor's physical dimensions.

The contestants came from: Old Saybrook High School, Connecticut; Bath University, U.K.; Carts Independent, Accokeek, Maryland; University of Washington; École Polytechnique, Montr'al, Canada; University of Michigan; University of Technology, Delft, Holland; Carnegie Mellon University; Virginia Tech; Texas A&M; Florida Atlantic University; Hochschule Rhine-Waal, Germany; Hernando County High Schools, Florida; University of Quebec, École de Technologie Superi'ure, Montr'al, Canada; Sultan Qaboos University, Oman; Seacoast ISR Team, high schools from Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire; Sussex County Technical High School, Sparta, New Jersey; University of California, San Diego; and Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico.

Typical submarine teams consisted of student athlete/engineers, wearing scuba gear for wet subs. Propulsion was provided by team members' legs and/or arms driving a sprocket or transmission device attached to shafts and propellers, turbines or other motion-inducing devices. For those team members providing propulsion, fitness is a key ingredient to achieving maximum speeds.

Many of the teams competing this year were previous participants, and many of the teams racing for the first time turned in very strong performances. This included the Carts Independent team, racing Il Calamaro, which won the Best Spirit of the Races Award, chosen by all of the teams competing. The team consisted of seven home-schooled youngsters ranging in age from 6 to 16.

U. S. Navy leadership took an interest in this premier STEM event, including the Office of Naval Research's RAdm. Matthew Klunder, the chief of naval research; RAdm. Thomas Eccles, chief engineer and deputy commander for naval systems engineering (who donned his scuba gear and assisted the Navy divers with marshaling boats near the finish line); RAdm. David Duryea, deputy commander for undersea warfare; and RAdm. Michael Jabaley, vice-commander, NAVSEA. These officers were in attendance throughout the week and spent time with each team. The commanding officer of the Carderock Division, Captain Heidi Marie Stefanyshyn-Piper, welcomed the contestants on the first day of the races and then donned her scuba gear to help race volunteer staff conduct wet safety inspections of the subs.

The 2013 race was the ninth time that the ISR has been held at Carderock since relocating from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the 12 competitions held since 1989, more than 2,600 competitors in 297 teams have designed, built and raced 236 submarines. Carderock's 3,200-foot-long tank, filled with water to 22 feet, is used by the U. S. Navy and others to test performance characteristics of new kinds of water craft. For safety reasons, the boats do not race simultaneously. The course comprises 100 meters marked by underwater lights; the 10 meters in the center are a time trap to compute the speed of the boats to the hundredth of a second. Specialized underwater cameras associated with the timing system record a single entry as it progresses down the lighted course, beginning when it passes the first light marking the start of the 10-meter section, and ending at the second light, 10 meters away. The speed is then computed by subtracting the times, and then dividing that number into the distance, to calculate nautical miles per hour, or knots.

ISR officials say that many of teams that compete use the ISR as a capstone course for their engineering programs. 'It gives the team members practical, real-world experience in not only subsea vehicle design, construction techniques, materials science, hydrodynamics, propulsion and life systems but also problem solving and project management,' according to ISR Executive Director Dave McGee.

Because the contestants are breathing on scuba, if they are not already certified, they must complete this certification course in addition to their normal course work. The teams must also raise funds as they are responsible for their expenses to build their underwater vehicles, travel to the race location, stay for the week and ship their subs home. During the actual races, as problems are encountered, they must be solved quickly in order to continue to compete. For instance, the team from Delft University of Technology was seen repairing their cracked nose cone with tape, following an encounter with the sidewall of the tank.

McGee thanked the U.S. Navy for hosting the event and extended appreciation to the volunteers from Carderock, as well as the entire volunteer ISR organization.

'It is because of the support of NSWC and the wonderful people here at Carderock that this competition continues to be such a huge success,' said FURE President Nancy Hussey. 'We will continue to provide an opportunity for bright and creative engineering students to apply their skills in a real-time, underwater environment. The ISR's focus is providing an education in reality for marine technology and ocean engineering students. We are rewarded by their ingenuity and anticipate an ever expanding, creative competition in the future.'

Special thanks went to the event hosts, NSWC, Carderock Division; Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head EOD Technology Division; Naval Sea Systems Command Team Submarine; and the Office of Naval Research.

The Platinum sponsors were IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society and Intelligent Decisions.

The Gold sponsor was the Marine Technology Society.

Silver sponsors were Clark Construction Group, Compass Publications Inc., International Submarine Engineering, Naval Submarine League, Noise Control Engineering Inc. (Billerica, Massachusetts) and Oceaneering International Inc. (Houston, Texas). The race received in-kind sponsorship from Adventure Scuba Co. (Chantilly, Virginia), Ball Watch USA, Brass Anchor Scuba Center (Frederick, Maryland), DeepSea Power & Light (San Diego, California), Dive Dive Dive (Lawrenceville, Georgia), Nextel, Ocean Technology Systems (Santa Ana, California), and the Venture Crew 758, Boy Scouts of America of Frederick, Maryland.

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