High school student's DIY submarine

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High school student Justin Beckerman made his own single-person submarine to explore a lake near his New Jersey home, he says, and "see fish and hopefully find a bit of history, like the cannons from my neighbors' historic house" dumped in the lake long ago. The project took him six months and cost $2,000. The window is an old skylight, the regulators and gauges are from a trashed soda fountain. From CNN:

The submarine has ballast tanks to maintain its depth and equilibrium; air vents that bring oxygen down from the surface; a functioning PA and a range of emergency systems including back-up batteries, a siren, strobe lights, a breathing apparatus and a pump to fight leaks. The vessel can remain submerged for up to two hours and travels beneath the waves at one and a half miles per hour.

Justin Beckerman's site

"High-school teen builds one-man submarine for $2,000" (CNN)

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  1. I am going to refer to this every time I feel that I am a tool-using god for replacing a shower nozzle or something.

  2. Article is light on details, so I’m making assumptions…. Certified SCUBA diver here. This is something that can go from great fun to tragic very, very quickly. Your basic worst case scenario is uncontrolled (panic) ascent from 30 feet to the surface. If he’s holding his breath, he will be severely injured as the expanding air in his lungs tries to escape. Even properly exhaling, it’s considered an emergency procedure and you’re only supposed to go so fast. 

    If indeed they’re really pumping oxygen from the surface (and not just fresh air), that’s another bad idea. 

    1. He’s only diving five feet, not the one atmosphere scenario you’ve come up with.  And even if he does hold his breath the entire time he’s not likely to expand that much. 

      Rock on kid, nice science.

    2. Submarines generally operate at constant internal pressure, the same as at the surface.

      Subs intended for diver exit are an exception, as are “wet subs” where there’s really no sealed airtight envelope, more like an underwater motorcycle for a scuba diver.  But this sub is sealed dry.

      1. I can’t believe this submarine is strong enough to operate at constant pressure. And if he is trying that, he runs a risk of structural failure.

        1. 30 feet depth is 1 atm pressure; you can test that by pulling nearly all the air out of the inside with it sitting on dry land. If it doesn’t implode, it shouldn’t in the water at that depth.

          Any deeper…

          1. One atmosphere for a large structure is very challenging. The risk is that he might spring a leak and go into negative buoyancy, or his center of gravity changes and it turns over.

            There is a video Adam Savage trying to get out of a partly flooded car which he described as “10 on the brown underpants scale”.

            If this submarine operates at 1 atm, then emergency egress at depth is going to be really difficult. Even if he can open a hatch, the inside is going to flood fast enough to cause serious injuries for anybody in the way. Maybe he has a hatch on the bottom to get out in a safe way but that won’t work if he lands on the hatch…

      2. You guys, he can only go five feet down.  Five feet.  Let’s all calm down about his danger level and let him wear his big boy pants if he wants to.No wonder that girl in Florida got in trouble in science class for making a bomb.  I thought this place was all about making cool things.

          1. He might be referring to an earlier submarine that only went to 5 ft. http://www.justinbeckerman.com/Site/Boats_and_Subs/Pages/personal_submarine_3.html

    3.  Hopefully he doesn’t actually go that deep and is well tethered for emergency retrieval.

    4. Don’t stress about the ascent. 

      If this thing is watertight and full of air then its not like your lungs which are constantly equalising to the outside water-pressure. Providing the thing doesn’t take on water he can come up as fast as he wants, if it does take on water when he’s down 30 ft then his best bet is the breathing apparatus mentioned, and a slow ascent.

  3. This sort of thing is incredibly dangerous; I’ve looked at sites — there’s a whole DIY submersible community — and a recurring design appears to be having the pilot BOLTED INTO PLACE with no way to escape if anything goes badly. Not something that really screams ‘safety’. 

    1. However, I put it to you that one cannot in all honesty deny that it does scream ‘awesome’.

    2. What concerns me is the secondhand clear parts used for part of the pressure hull.  And lack of extra safety margin pressure testing, as far as I can tell.  Real subs are proof tested in some form to higher pressures than they ever operate at during real world operations; this guy seems to be diving as deep as the maximum pressure test they performed, so we don’t know if it’s got plenty of margins or is 1% away from failure at the bottom of the lake…

  4. Good thing he didn’t bring that contraption within shouting distance of an actual high school, or he’d be behind bars already for terrorism and probably high treason.

    1. Just think, if a Michigan kid obtains this technology they could directly contact Canadians undetected Canadians!

  5. My associates and I deal in certain products that should oughtta be transportated in an unobtusive way. We think that your submarroon would be most efflickative in helping us to conduct our business. Take a walk with me, kid…

  6. A dream project of mine since I was quite young. I started designing an RC sub (that would have a camera and would probably be tethered) in high school but never went through with it (if I’d actually gone through will all the projects I thought up while I was in high school, I probably would have studied engineering at university instead of geology, which might have been a better idea). 

    This kid will almost certainly get into a top engineering program and be successful later in life – I do agree that there is some danger in a project like this, but being able to pursue what fires your passions is essential. 

    1.  Always wanted to do this as a kid… The closest that my friend and I got was building a DIY version of the cardboard sub that one would see in the back of comic books.

  7. Holy claustrophobia! I’m wetting myself just looking at that picture! I hope he doesn’t have to transport the US nuclear arsenal under the north polar ica cap for six months at a time!

  8. a functioning PA

    So . . . he can host concerts in there?

    I’m trying to suss out what the author thinks “PA” means, and I’m coming up blank. 2-way radio?

      1.  OTOH, it’s kind of fun to imagine him tootling around the surface of the lake, with his Skidoo tow and airlines, blasting out, “PEOPLE OF THE LAKE COMMUNITY: DO NOT BE ALARMED. I AM A HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENT IN A HOMEMADE SUBMARINE. IN A FEW MOMENTS I WILL BE DESCENDING TO 2.3 METERS. DURING THE DESCENT PHASE YOU WILL NOT HEAR ME. WHEN I RETURN TO THE SURFACE, I WILL UPDATE YOU ALL WITH NEWS OF THE SUBSURFACE WORLD. IN THE MEANTIME, HERE IS DAFT PUNK’S LATEST SINGLE.”

  9. he should team with the team who brought us OpenROV and maybe start a kickstarter campaign to bring us our own diy version

  10. My father came up from a scuba dive in a lake looking a bit shaken and said “I swam right into a big tangle of barbed wire!”

  11. From the pictures, he’s towing a hookah rig for his air supply which is why the time limit. It also solves a lot of the pressure problems. He probably has someone playing surface tender for him too. And he seems smart enough that he’ll have an emergency ballast drop or a small scuba rig inside with him.

  12. I can’t see any confirmation or denial of the possibility of time travel in his submarine.

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