OceanGate Inc., a global provider of manned submersible solutions for
research and commercial applications, has announced the completion of
the initial carbon fiber hull design and feasibility study for its next
generation manned submersible -- Cyclops™.
From University of Washington
For the past 70 years, the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory
has conducted ocean research and engineering.
Now they are teaming up
with a local submersible company to build an innovative five-person
submarine that would travel to almost 2 miles below the ocean’s surface.
When completed in 2016, it will be the first deep-sea manned submersible project for the UW.
“What a terrific asset for the UW to have access to one of the few
available manned submarines in the U.S.,” said principal investigator Robert Miyamoto
who directs the lab’s industry and defense programs.
students routinely had the opportunity to go on a manned sub I think the
research in deep-ocean science would explode.”
The submarine, named Cyclops
has a carbon-fiber hull that can take passengers to 3,000 meters (9,842
feet) – deeper than all but a handful of existing subs.
“Most people don’t appreciate there are not very many private or commercial subs,” said Stockton Rush
, CEO of OceanGate Inc.
an Everett, Wash., company that charters submarines.
He says there are
about 600 military subs worldwide, but only about 100 certified civilian
subs, and most of those are on private yachts or in storage.
For the past year and a half, members of Miyamoto’s team have leased a
campus lab with OceanGate. The group has gone through more than 20
prototype designs before settling on the recently unveiled plan
The carbon-fiber hull is shaped like a bullet that can plunge down to
depth in less than 60 minutes. Once the vessel reaches depth, it
rotates to its cruising orientation.
The passenger seats pivot in order
to stay upright.
The Boeing Company worked with OceanGate and the UW on initial design
analysis of the 7-inch-thick pressure vessel.
The design uses a
strategy where each strip of carbon fiber and resin is precisely placed
to ensure that there will be no gaps or weak points. The battery will be
a lithium-polymer design that will also make the sub lighter and able
to dive longer and faster than traditional subs.
The front viewing area, for which the vehicle is named, is designed
as a 5-foot-wide dome of 4-inch-thick glass.
Passengers will sit inside
the dome to have a 180-degree view.
The collaboration was worked out through the UW Center for Commercialization
For OceanGate, the UW offers ocean engineers who are used to working on
challenging problems, and access to wider campus expertise.
For the UW,
it’s a chance to test new sensor, manipulators and control systems, and
give researchers and students a front-row seat to explore the deep sea.
Miyamoto and Rush say they plan to integrate modern control systems
into the vehicle, replacing the many dials and levers used on today’s
submersibles with joysticks and more automated control systems that
allow it to operate with a single pilot.
“It’s like going from Model T to the Tesla,” Rush said.
UW researchers hope to test and integrate their underwater sensors.
Since high-bandwidth communication is not possible through water, the
unmanned vehicles they typically use either must be tethered to the ship
or record data that they download at the surface.
“With a manned submarine you can actually have the researcher watch
as the sensor is taking data and make changes,” Miyamoto said.
speeds up the testing cycle and provides better information on how the
tool is operating.”
The UW portion of the project is funded by a $5 million industry
grant from OceanGate.
The UW team now comprises about six people;
Miyamoto anticipates that will grow to about 10 when the project is at
The submarine is scheduled to be commercially available from
the company in 2016.
Passenger safety and cost are the two most common criticisms of
But Rush argues that in the past 35 years there
have been no serious injuries in nonmilitary submarines.
And the team
aims to build a smaller, lighter vehicle with a launch system that
doesn’t require a specialized vessel to keep total operating costs lower
than today’s manned submersibles.
Rush, an amateur diver who moved to Seattle in 1990, says he became
involved with submarines as a way to explore the Pacific Northwest
marine environment without having to deal with the cold water and
cumbersome dry suits.
When he discovered that subs-for-hire were in short supply, he bought
an unfinished sub and finished it for his own use.
In 2009, he founded a
company that now charters two submarines
for exploration, research, commercial use and deep-water filming.
Researchers pay two-thirds as much as commercial clients.
With Cyclops, OceanGate seeks to develop a versatile, economical
submarine that can go more than six times as deep.
The company will
target the oil and gas industry, deep-sea mining, pharmaceutical
exploration, academic research and even tourism.
“To make a submersible economically viable you need to be able to
serve multiple users so you have the volume to keep costs low,” Rush
“The key today for big projects is you’ve got to have multiple
Miyamoto and Rush met through BlueView Technologies
a Bellevue, Wash.-based spinout from the Applied Physics Laboratory
that develops underwater sonar.
Rush now holds an affiliate position at
the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.
Despite the recent emphasis on autonomous vehicles, including many
projects at the UW, the pair believes there is a role for human presence
in deep-sea exploration.
“I grew up in a Jacques Cousteau world, with a lot of emphasis on
oceanography, and it just feels like it’s waned since then,” Miyamoto
“Pragmatically, it’s nice to advance the state of the science, but
I would do it just for the exploratory aspect.”
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