Published October 18, 2013
Space tourism has become quite the rage, but what about deep sea tourism?
The Cyclops will go deeper than many existing submarines and is due to be commercially available in 2016.
The University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory is working with a local submersible company Oceangate to build a five-person submarine that would travel almost 2 miles below the ocean's surface. Its innovative design and carbon-fiber hull will enable passengers to reach 9,842 feet or 3,000 meters under the sea.
Shaped like a bullet, the carbon-fiber hull can plunge down to depth in less than 60 minutes. Once the sub reaches depth, it rotates to its cruising orientation -- and in order for passengers to stay upright during the journey, their seats pivot.
The sub’s front viewing area inspired its name. The Cyclops sub has a 5-foot-wide dome that passengers will sit in, giving them a 180-degree view through 4-inch-thick glass.
Over the past 18 months the researchers have gone through more than 20 prototype designs to get to their just revealed plan.
The Boeing Company is usually associated with airspace research, but the company also undertakes extremely advanced work on underwater tech. Boeing worked with OceanGate and the research team on the initial design analysis of their 7-inch-thick pressure vessel.
Each strip of carbon fiber and resin is precisely placed to build a hull without gaps or weak points.
A lithium-polymer battery will also be used to make the sub lighter. The research team says it will also enable the sub to dive longer and faster than traditional models.
The University of Washington researchers will be using Cyclops to test new underwater sensors and manipulator arms.
High-bandwidth communication is not possible through water, so typically unmanned underwater vehicles tend to be tethered to the ship or record data and offload it when they reach the surface. The team hopes their research into sensors will help tackle this ongoing challenge.
They will also utilize modern more automated control systems so a single pilot can operate the sub. And the traditional levers and dials on today's subs will be replaced with joysticks and more.
"It's like going from Model T to the Tesla," said OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush.
Currently, there are very few private or commercial subs for those who would like to give deep sea exploration a whirl.
Rush estimates there are about 600 military subs worldwide, but only about 100 certified civilian subs. He says most of those are in storage or on private yachts.
Critics of leveraging submarines to give civilians a deep sea experience often cite cost and passenger safety as two drawbacks.
According to Rush there have been no serious injuries in nonmilitary submarines in the past 35 years.
To help keep operating costs lower than today’s manned subs, the team aims to build a smaller, lighter vehicle with a launch system that doesn't require a specialized vessel.
For those up for some deep sea exploration, it is hoped Cyclops will provide an economical submarine that can take you more than six times as deep.
In addition to tourism, Cyclops could be used for oil and gas, deep-sea mining and for pharmaceutical companies to investigate possible sources for new drugs.
The University of Washington work on Cyclops is funded by a $5 million industry grant from OceanGate.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.