200 Centimeters under the Sea
January 29, 2009 10:35 PM   Subscribe

"To pedal the 3700 kilometres of open water from Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa to Barbados in the Caribbean should take around 50 days..." Engineer and machinist Ted Ciamillo has built a human powered mini-submarine, designed around a larger version of his Lunocet carbon-fibre "tail" for divers, for an Atlantic Ocean crossing.... The "SubHuman project".
posted by Kronos_to_Earth (23 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Good luck. One person submarines seem to be a perennial fascination with some people since at least the 1960's.
posted by Tube at 11:33 PM on January 29, 2009

Actually, people have been doing the one sub thing for a lot longer.

CT represent
posted by mrzarquon at 11:50 PM on January 29, 2009

I'd just like to point out that this is the same dude who thought he re-invented bicycle brakes, when he really just found a way to charge people $500 for them.

Good luck to him. I envy this crazy adventure, but... good luck.
posted by Acari at 11:57 PM on January 29, 2009

Guy's nuts. Sleeping in a tent on the deck of the sub! Ha ha. I suspect when he actually gets out on to the ocean a lot of nights are going to be spent on the boat following him. Which is much smarter.

He probably could get a lot of really great data, and it would be a shame to screw that up because he felt the need to "sleep underwater." You know, with the fishes.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:47 AM on January 30, 2009

Thanks for making me aware of this guy! I'm composing a letter now...
posted by jellywerker at 2:04 AM on January 30, 2009

"Bioluminescence researcher Edie Widder [...] is particularly excited by what Ciamillo might see. They are working together to mount a highly sensitive camera called the Eye in the Sea on the sub's nose"

The one she just installed at 880 m (2886 ft) depth on the Monterey Canyon sea-bed last Wednesday (article here) is now live.
posted by progosk at 2:42 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ciamillo sees a market with drug runners from Colombia, and estimates a 3-day run to the US if the crew is allowed unfettered access to the cocaine.
posted by crapmatic at 2:50 AM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

(alternative links to the Eye in the Sea, both silverlight, are here and here - though all seem down just now...)
posted by progosk at 4:19 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

hmm. regarding the lunocet, regular flippers work great for diving. but hey, i just do it to look at fish and wrecks and stuff. people who want to pretend to be a dolphin-mermaid and jump out of the water have different needs.

regarding the submarine, why? submarines should go very deep, but who cares if they can go far. i just went on stanley's submarine and it was incredible. we went down 2,000 feet and probably never went out more than 2,000 feet from shore.
posted by snofoam at 4:40 AM on January 30, 2009

i just went on stanley's submarine and it was incredible.

That's awesome! I went to high school with that crazy dude.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:57 AM on January 30, 2009

Ciamillo and Fish say they knew they were onto something when the first prototype Lunocet, a piece of sculpted foam sandwiched between two pieces of carbon fibre, essentially swam by itself.

Wow! That's an amazing thing! It generated thrust from nowhere? What an amazing engineering feat to come up with that profile! It must be revolutionary!

When they released it at the bottom of a test pool, its buoyancy combined with its cambered shape generated a forward thrust that made it scoot across the tank.

Um. Er. Wait a minute. This whole 'magical thrust' thing just fell completely on its arse. They don't really believe that crap, do they? If you take one of those flat pink and blue floats that you use to learn to swim with to the bottom of the pool and let it go at the right angle, they shoot off at some MAGICAL SWIMMING ON IT'S OWN pace till they get to the surface, too. Absolutely anything buoyant and relatively flat will do this.

It says absolutely nothing about the efficiency of the propulsion system to say a flattened piece of buoyant material propelled itself forward when let go.

Also, this tent idea. Yeah, I can't see that working. This sub is tiny, and there is no way that it will be able to float high enough in the water and remain stable enough to sleep on top out of the water. The swells in the middle of the Atlantic, even on a calm day, are easily the height of that sub, and to stay buoyant enough to be on top, you'd be bouncing around like a cork. He'd be lying about 6 inches at most above the water, I'd guess. The higher in the water he sits, the more chance of being thrown off in his sleep.

Mind you, there is a comment about "what if he runs out of air while he sleeps" which seems at odds with the tent theory. Is it possible the journalist got his wires crossed?

In short, I think this is a great idea, but the guy is nuts and there are either some extremely inaccurate reporting issues, or some serious flaws in this project as presented, much as I'd love it to work. Even the idea of being constantly wet in a wetsuit for that long surely has health issues? Is there a wetsuit made that you wear for that long without causing significant physical discomfort?
posted by Brockles at 5:16 AM on January 30, 2009

regarding the submarine, why? submarines should go very deep, but who cares if they can go far. i just went on stanley's submarine and it was incredible. we went down 2,000 feet and probably never went out more than 2,000 feet from shore.
posted by snofoam at 4:40 AM on January 30 [+] [!]

That's awesome! I went to high school with that crazy dude.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:57 AM on January 30 [+] [!]

What a small world -- I went to college with him and he was a nut. It was in college, at Eckered, in St. Petersburg, where he built his first "fully functional" prototype and tested it in Frenchman's Creek. My girlfriend in my junior year cheated on me with him... Ahhh...

Come to think of it, he also had an entrepreneurial bookstore that he set up on campus at the start of every quarter, buying and re-selling for a better price than the campus store.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 8:28 AM on January 30, 2009

Fifty days of pedaling... and all he needs now is to find enough space in his mini-sub for a fifty days worth of food, and fifty days worth of excrement.
posted by markkraft at 9:10 AM on January 30, 2009

fifty days worth of excrement.

You think he won't just shit in the sea? That's all most of the countries in the world do...

Besides, he'll only have one or the other, surely?
posted by Brockles at 9:24 AM on January 30, 2009

So, in collaboration with marine biologist Frank Fish of West Chester University in Pennsylvania, who specialises in the biomechanics of cetacean swimming...

It's funny, because Fish is a mammal, too. Oh, my.
posted by not_on_display at 9:48 AM on January 30, 2009

When I was 7 or 8, I desperately wanted to build a submarine out of two galvanized garbage cans welded together. Then I read a book by some guy who claimed to have crossed the Atlantic in a ROCKET-POWERED submarine, including photos of himself and his sub on the beach in New Jersey or someplace (1969?). Even at age 8, the whole exercise seemed unbelievably silly.

The picture in the NS link has the same air of terminal wankery about it. Umm, your main power transmission link is a pedal-ey thing, but underwater. Is there an obvious way to make this more inefficient, apart from filling the ocean with tapioca before pushing off?
posted by sneebler at 9:52 AM on January 30, 2009

Erm... no. Although speeds and efficiency have steadily climbed in the International (Human-Powered) Submarine Races over the years, power and air consumption are a tremendous limit. In the race I attended back in 1991, a 100m sprint uses a gross power output in air of 0.7 kW [which] translates to 0.35 kW useful power underwater, confirmed by ergometer trials. Without really doing much more than considering bicyclist power, lets say he can maintain 200W of power production long duration, giving him much less than that as thrust - well under 1HP, but still making progress. He can't possibly carry enough air with him for an extended journey at even a fraction of that rate, which means that he's going to need some sort of snorkley thing. The scuba tanks shown in the first link and the regulator shown under his equipment are thus obviously irrelevant.

His design is not much bigger than any of the entrants into the HPSR competition, yet he expects to somehow balance a tent on top with a sleeping bag, cookstove, and the other optimistically "dry" items shown on the handwavey "sub technology" page?

Sorry, my BS meter is maxed out on this one.

The article admits that the attempt is a publicity stunt to draw attention to his propulsion system. You'd think he could have come up with something a bit more plausible, though.
posted by argh at 10:24 AM on January 30, 2009

You guys realize he's taking a supply boat with him right? That way he can exchange poop for video storage and air. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns into an expedition where he sleeps on the boat and uses the sub for daily excursions to observe the sea away from the disturbance of the supply ship.
posted by jellywerker at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2009

amazing stories, civil disobedient. they go a long way to explaining why he spent 8 months last year shut down because he was feuding with the local vice-mayor about dock space.
posted by snofoam at 12:35 PM on January 30, 2009

I wrote that New Scientist article in the first link. Ciamillo is definitely ambitious, but he's anything but crazy when it comes to this crossing. It's being planned out in minute detail, and he's training like a triathlete to do it.

One interesting detail that didn't make it into the final version: he's open-sourcing the design on the Lunocet fin (which I for one am dying to try in person).
posted by gottabefunky at 6:15 PM on January 30, 2009

Do you have any additional information, not in the article, to shed any light on the inconsistencies of the logistics (ie sleeping in a tent on top, yet 'there is a risk of running out of oxygen while he is asleep')?

Also, if he is planning out the minute details, can you shed light on the obvious problems being pointed out here? I mean, I'm all for giving the benefit of the doubt, but the issues with the project are substantial.

What extra planning were you privy to that you can enlighten us about? (Or is there some confidentiality aspects of the finer details?)
posted by Brockles at 7:19 PM on January 30, 2009

Most of the site is dated 2007. Is this not going to happen
or is it about to happen? Also, where's the guy getting his funding? It sounds like more interesting science than amazing crossing. Has he actually used the sub yet? So many questions...
posted by From Bklyn at 4:44 AM on January 31, 2009

I think the fact that a support boat is following him answers some of the questions above.

I'm not sure exactly how the tent thing will work: he describes is as like one of those portaledges that climbers use on multi-day routes.

The "running out of air as he sleeps" thing was an artifact of the editing process; as I understand it, he won't ever be sleeping in the submerged sub breathing bottled air--just on the surface.

There is still the risk of running low on air as he waits out long storms below the surface. (He says he's actually aiming for November to increase the risk of hurricanes, to make it a more "thorough" test.)

I'll be following his progress as intently as anyone...
posted by gottabefunky at 1:02 AM on February 1, 2009

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