SUBC design team gearing up for international submarine races

Like many design teams, UBC’s SUBC design team is comprised of engineering students drawn from departments ranging from the electrical to mechanical and chemical disciplines.

Unlike any other design team, their aim is to design and build human-powered submarines from scratch.

These “wet” submarines, built to be powered by trained divers that dwell within the hull during races, are entered into international races requiring the subs to navigate “large complicated courses” at top speed, according to Allysia Lam, the team’s mechanical steering lead.

“We spent hours designing and actually manufacturing all of the components that go into the final product,” said Lam. “We have about 60 active members who are actually engaged and make stuff going towards this project,” added Stella Oh, the team’s safety officer.

Part of one of the oldest design teams on campus, SUBC members work in collaboration to leverage specific skill sets and create sub components that can be put together to create a high-performance functional product.

One of the goals of the team, according to Lam, is “to provide members with a good experience regarding the whole design process.” The team’s ground-up approach — with almost every component of their projects being created by the team — is enabled by collaborations with bodies such as the UBC Aquatic Centre and student clubs that train sub pilots. The lifecycle of one project is typically around two years from conception to testing to usage and finally reclamation.

The team’s current project has a teardrop-shaped hull and will be used in competitions the team enters within the next few years. The first is the International Submarine Races in Maryland, happening this week. Facing off against the projects of around 20 teams hailing from several universities, the sub will compete in several performance evaluations with awards being based off a number of criteria, such as speed and design creativity. The teams will also present a comprehensive technical overview of the project to judges.

The second competition is the European International Submarine Races in the UK, occurring in July. It entails a more “complicated course where there is a U-turn required, against around 12 other teams,” said Lam.

The team has had a storied and, at times, tumultuous past. While select projects retired by the team have been placed on display around UBC locations, the team has undergone “ups and downs and apparently some dark ages over five years ago before it was basically rebuilt,” according to Oh.

The team has since made a comeback from its near-disappearance.

In line with a policy of minimizing waste, many retired projects of the team are often stripped of components for reuse and used for the training of new and current members. Plans to develop a new “manta-like design inspired by manta rays instead of a conventional shape” are being built for future competitions, according to Oh. She aded that this new design will better serve the teams purpose of “building better engineers through naval technologies.”

“[The design process] gives us really great perspective, I believe, and in the end produces really good, well-rounded engineers,” said Lam.