The Olympics may be in London, but in Gosport, some 80 miles away on the south coast of England, another international competition unfolded for the fastest human-powered submarine.
The inaugural European International Submarine Races (eISR) were held on June 25-39 at Qinetiq, the former Royal Navy's testing facility in Gosport. Teams of students from around the world showed off their designs for a submarine powered entirely by human muscle. No energy storage was allowed -- no batteries, flywheels or motor assists.
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The winner was the Omer 8 (above), from the Ecole de Technologie Superieure of Montreal, Quebec. It hit a speed of 7.03 knots (8.08 mph) over a 13-meter section of the course. In second place was the Talon 1, from Florida Atlantic University, and the University of Bath's Minerva was in third.
The Talon 1, from FLorida Atlantic University, came in second place.
The race was in a 60- by 120-meter pool, with both a speed section and a slalom -- the point was to demonstrate both speed and maneuverability. Each team's overall score was calculated from how the sub performed on different tasks. So while Omer 8 won the speed round, FAU's Talon 1 took the prize for agility and the University of Michigan's Wolverine won for innovation.
The University of Bath's Minerva.
All were crewed by a person in SCUBA gear, as adding a separate air supply complicates the design. But they took slightly different tacks for powering the subs and maneuvering them -- some had electrical assists for adjusting fins in order to steer.
The Wolverine, the entry from the University of Michigan.
Powering a submarine is a lot different from a bicycle or even the human-powered aircraft designs, though they all use pedals. "You have to strap your feet into the pedals," said Jennifer Blowers, a mechanical engineering student on the University of Bath's team. "On a bike you have gravity and momentum, but on the boat you don't get any of that."
This means that a human crew member has to push that much harder. It's also important that the bottom of the sub be transparent, because the course is marked at the bottom of the pool.
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Then there are the engineering challenges of working in the water. "You've got rust, friction and you try not to drop the Allen keys," Blowers said.
This record has been accepted by the International Submarine Races -- home of human-powered submarine racing in the United States, which sponsors its own race, the next of which is scheduled for June 2013.
Photo: The Omer 8, which set the speed record (top). Credit: European International Submarine Races