Sunday, July 21, 2013

Watching the Submarines Race

Once every two years my former employer hosted the International Human Powered Submarine Races. Teams from various universities and even an occasional high school, from the United States as well as other countries came to our tow tank to compete in two different classes.

The employees viewed the arrival of this troop of budding naval architects and engineers as an attractive nuisance. While it was interesting to go down the stairs and watch the excitement, we lost our parking places for a week. We couldn’t run our own tests for a week and going to the cafeteria became a logistical impossibility.

The first time this merry band showed up on our door step I thought that finding the right athlete to power the boat would be the key to victory. I was wrong. While the cardiac conditioning of the athlete or athletes in the two man vehicles was a factor, the key to victory was control, especially control at low speeds. Until the little submarines get up to some critical velocity there is not enough water flowing over the control surfaces to give them sufficient bite to steer the vessel. Once the boat reaches its critical velocity the control surfaces provide enough force to effectively steer the course.

The problem of low speed control effects many areas of life. We can’t steer the course we want to follow if our boat isn’t in motion. Once our submarine is in motion, it is a lot easier to find the path of lights on the bottom of the basin that mark the course and the finish line. Before we reach that critical speed the boat might point down and hit the bottom of the basin or point up and broach the surface of the water. This is also true of finding the right job, getting out of debt, investing for retirement, or even dating. We can’t find the right direction until we start moving. Once in motion it is much easier to find the path.

Of course the winner of these races has it all good hydrodynamic design, an efficient propulsor, a sturdy drive train, and the right human at the controls. Not surprisingly the best teams have faculty mentors as well as mentors from their corporate sponsors, but one year second place was won by a local high school with no money and no faculty mentors. They did have one of our employees helping them (no brag just fact).

Ecole de Technologie Supérieure Université du Québec is the 800 pound gorilla in the world of human powered submarines. For some reason excellence in this competition has become a tradition at that school. These are very serious people who always bring their A game to the races.

Go ahead get started. Put on your scuba gear. Your friends will help you get into your boat and point you in the right direction. Then it is up to you. Start turning those bicycle pedals. Once that propeller on the back of your boat starts turning, you will start moving. Once in motion look around the bottom of the tank. You will find your way to finish line, but only if you start moving.

Now enjoy some really cool videos from the International Human Powered Submarine Races.

International Submarine Races

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