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Success at International Submarine Races 2017

Godiva 2 enters the pool for its maiden voyage in preparation for the European International Submarine Races 2016

Warwick Submarine is a group project for MEng final-year undergraduate students in the School of Engineering. Their task is to design and build a human-powered submarine, and race it on an underwater course, competing with other top science and marine engineering students from across the world.

Breathing from on-board scuba equipment, the pilot lies prone in the submarine, resting their shoulders on braces. They propel the submarine by pedalling. Derived from a bicycle, the pedal power transfers through a bevel-gearbox powertrain, which is connected to the propeller. To steer the submarine, the pilot pulls handlebars which control pitch (up and down) and yaw (left and right).

For safety, an emergency buoy is released to the surface if the pilot lets go of the spring-loaded ‘dead man's switch’ at the handlebars. A light attached to the hull helps the support team locate the submarine in low light conditions.

Each year, a new group of students takes on the Warwick Submarine challenge.

International Submarine Races

In June 2017, the team achieved great success with their 2.8-metre-long submarine Godiva 3 at the International Submarine Races (ISR), held at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in Maryland, USA.

The ISR, a biennial design and racing competition, involves various challenges:

  • Time trials on a 100m-long straight-line course
  • A presentation to a panel of judges
  • Submission of a design outline report

Warwick Submarine team 2017
Warwick Submarine 2017 team

Launching Godiva 3
Launching Godiva 3

Contestants on the beach at International Submarine Races
Contestants on the beach at 14th International Submarine Races

To be ‘race-ready’, the team had to pass through dry and wet tests, and demonstrate the reliability of Godiva 3's safety systems. The team was race-ready in under two days, leaving three remaining days to race.

The team recorded six completed runs out of the nine runs they attempted. (A run is disqualified if the submarine breaches the surface – the main challenge for all competitors.)

Warwick Submarine won awards for:

  • Best Design Outline – the best report submitted on the submarine design
  • Best Use of Composites – for use of recycled carbon fibre in the hull
  • Third place in their category for speed – reaching 2.52 knots

This represents the best racing result and final awards of the three competing teams from the UK: University of Bath, University of Southampton and University of Warwick.

2016/17 team leader and MEng final-year student Verena Oetzmann commented:

“I could not be happier about our successful performance this year! It feels good to see that all the hard work has paid off; the team has done a truly fantastic job in designing, building and racing the vessel. Warwick Sub has been an incredible journey.”

Other regular participants at the races are:

  • University of Auckland (New Zealand)
  • University of British Columbia (Canada)
  • University of California San Diego (USA)
  • Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)
  • École Polytechnique de Montréal (Canada)
  • École de technologie supérieure (Montreal, Canada) – this engineering school are major players (effectively the Canadian Naval Academy) and were winners of the Overall Performance Award in 2017
  • University of Michigan (USA)
  • Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences (Germany)
  • University of Victoria (Canada)
  • University of Waterloo (Canada)

Verena OetzmannVerena Oetzmann
2016/2017 team leader

“In addition to all the challenges that we women in engineering face, being the female leader of an otherwise all male team was a demanding but very rewarding role. The lessons I have learnt throughout my time, coupled with the many skills procured along the way, have been invaluable as preparation for working life after university.

“Despite being the most difficult venture that I have undertaken at university, it is certainly among the most enjoyable, rewarding and memorable experiences I have ever had.”

Warwick's 2017 team with their awards
Warwick's 2017 team with their awards

UK university teams
UK teams: Southampton, Warwick, Bath

Major developments for Godiva 3

This year's performance at the USA race was the best yet recorded by the Warwick team. In fact, it was the first time since Shakespeare, Warwick's first submarine raced in 2014, that Warwick has managed to cross the course finish line without breaching the surface.

So, what's different about Godiva 3? How did the 2016/17 students overcome design challenges to compete so successfully?

Warwick Submarine's supervisor Dr Ian Tuersley commented:

“This year's result undoubtedly represents a significant step forward in the competitiveness of the Warwick Submarine team in the International Submarine Races (ISR). The students have worked hard on a number of areas but very specifically to improve the neutral buoyancy characteristics of the submarine's hull design, which has enabled them to reliably complete timed runs in the race.”

The hull is made of foam, provided by sponsors Diab, sandwiched between two layers of recycled carbon fibre composite. The foam contributes buoyancy, which balances the combined weight of the rest of the submarine and its systems. Neutral buoyancy occurs when the submarine (including its pilot) neither sinks nor rises in the water.

This is crucial for a successful qualifying run because it's very difficult to correct an overly-buoyant submarine from rising to the surface. Also, energy generated by the pilot's pedalling is transferred optimally into forward motion.

Another innovation by the students was to design a system to easily add compact weights (in increments of 500g) to the chassis frame. These weights can be moved along the longitudinal axis and locked in position. This enables the fine-tuning of buoyancy and the submarine's attitude in the water.

Technical and academic support

The base for building the submarine is the Engineering Hall in WMG's International Manufacturing Centre. There are dedicated workshop areas for students to work side by side with expert technicians, engineers and business partners.

Together with their academic home in the School of Engineering, immediately opposite WMG's International Manufacturing Centre, MEng students are at the heart of Warwick's central campus – right where the University's reputation for manufacturing excellence and innovation in engineering is forged.

Being able to draw on the technician support, facilities and WMG's High Value Manufacturing Catapult – an R&D centre on campus specialising in low carbon mobility, which includes the marine sector – is a fantastic opportunity for undergraduate students. They can put their academic learning to the test, tackle design challenges as a team and gain valuable experience working with commercial partners to build a submarine.

Engineering Hall
Engineering Hall in WMG's International Manufacturing Centre

Research expertise

The Warwick Submarine project is supervised by Dr Tuersley, Director of Studies at the School of Engineering and a Principal Teaching Fellow at WMG.

Students can also draw on research from across the University, particularly in Innovative Manufacturing, which is one of Warwick's 11 Global Research Priorities (GRPs). These programmes bring researchers together to address some of the most challenging problems facing the world today.

Dr Peter Wilson, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Sustainable Materials and Manufacturing Group at WMG and Innovative Manufacturing GRP member, specialises in fibre-reinforced polymer composites. His research into recycled carbon fibre was applied in the materials used to make Godiva 3's hull. This was a major leap forward in Warwick Submarine's development. As well as winning the award for ‘Best Use of Composites’ at the 2017 International Submarine Races, Godiva 3 is the largest example of this kind of technology used anywhere in the world to date.

Another member of the Innovative Manufacturing GRP and Associate Professor at WMG, Dr Stuart Coles, also contributes his expertise on Sustainable Materials and Manufacturing to the student project.

Commercial partners and sponsorship

An attractive and important aspect of the group project is the opportunity for students to work with commercial partners to turn design ideas into a fully-functional, robust and race-ready submarine.

The team all learn how to use scuba diving equipment, so they can test, pilot and support the submarine under water. Nigel Denton, Senior Teaching Fellow at WMG, is a nationally-qualified diving instructor with the British Sub Aqua Club. He trains the students to dive with generous help from sponsor Stoney Cove, the UK's National Diving Centre in Leicester.

Another sponsor, 3M, provided the spectacular paint finish for Godiva 3. The submarine spent two weeks at 3M's Automotive Refinish Centre in Atherstone, Warwickshire in May 2017. The relationship between 3M and Warwick Submarine dates from the early days of the project and in 2016 3M's co-directors invited the Warwick students to visit their Bracknall Customer Innovation Centre to see how 3M could further develop their support for the student project.

Three divers in the water with Godiva 3
In the water with Godiva 3

Paint finish by 3M
Godiva 3's paint finish by 3M

Warwick Submarine's history

Students in the 2016/17 team have been able to learn from the work by previous teams. Continuous improvement, testing and refinement is vital to a successful race.

The Warwick Submarine project started in 2013, directed by Dr Tuersley. After an initial concept-only design project, the second group of students designed and built Shakespeare to race at the European International Submarine Races (eISR) in 2014. Rock-solid and hefty, it passed all pre-race scrutiny tests, and featured a contra-rotating propeller to reduce rotational torque. Shakespeare still holds the slowest track speed record at QinetiQ's Ocean Basin in Gosport – but it completed the course!

Josh Dobson, 2015/16 team leader. Video by

While subsequent teams were unable to complete the race course in 2015 and 2016, they still made substantial leaps forward in innovation and their use of novel materials.

At the ISR races in Maryland, USA in June 2015, Godiva won the Innovation award in recognition of its biodegradable hull design, rotor asymmetric chain ring, fold away hull design and extensive use of 3D printing. The fold away, or ‘flat pack’ system, minimised the cost of shipping Godiva from Warwick to the USA to approximately one third of competing European universities' costs. The team also won an honourable mention for their design report submission.

Back at Gosport in July 2016, the team won the Best Design Report award with Godiva 2. They also used the same biodegradable hull material of Godiva, but with glass microspheres to aid buoyancy. A standout feature was that the submarine was the most 3D-printed vessel at the races.

Now, Dr Tuersley believes that: “as a result of this year's performance, we are now a serious contender.”

So, what's next for Warwick Submarine?

One idea the team trialled with Godiva 3 is a ‘fly-by-wire’ system. This enables the pilot to direct the submarine using a joystick instead of handlebars. The team ultimately chose not to use fly-by-wire, as the controls weren't yet reliable enough for the demands of racing. However, the groundwork is ready for the 2018 team to incorporate this technology, should they wish to.

The 2016/17 team hand over the reins to a new group of final-year students in September 2017. All involved are excited to see what the students will do for the European competition at Gosport in 2018.