Human Powered Submarine

About HPS

Human Powered Submarine team designs and builds a fast, safe, and reliable fiberglass submarine that competes in the International Submarine Race, which takes place every two years in Bethesda, Maryland. Scuba-certified students control the submerged and flooded submarine with human powered propulsion. Students working on this project learn essential CAD, machining, and programming skills and gain a deeper understanding of the concepts that they learn in their classes.

The Submarine

The most recent submarine, completed in 2017, is "Spicy Tuna Roll," or STR. Competing in the one-person non-propellor division, Spicy Tuna Roll moves through the water similarly to the bluefin tuna, one of the fastest fish in the ocean. The pilot operates the submarine by pedaling the drivetrain, which uses a crank mechanism to swing the tail back and forth throughout the water. Steering fins are located on the sides, top, and bottom of the submarine and are operated with a console by the pilot. In case of emergencies, the pilot can release the deadman buoy, which floats to the surface and allows the divers to rescue the pilot via the submarine hatch. Students also designed controls to assist the pilot with navigation.


Moving the Submarine Forward

The propulsion team creates a drivetrain - the system that translates the pilot’s pedalling force into an oscillating motion that propels the submarine forward. Focusing on ergonomics and efficienty, this team is spatially oriented, interfacing various mechanical components, including shafts, gears, sprockets, chains, and bearings. Many components are custom made, so team members spend plenty of time in the computer lab designing parts as well as in the machine shop making those parts, learning valuable skills like milling, lathing, and cutting. 


Putting the Submarine on the Right Path

The steering subteam will be responsible for the design and control of the submarine’s steering fins. This year we are planning to implement a fully electronic system for the first time in the team’s history. At first this will be accomplished by providing the pilot with an electronic joystick to control the steering fins, but we plan on using various sensors for autonomous control of the submarine. This will help to optimize efficiency and allow the pilot to focus solely on propulsion.

Human-Submarine Interface

The pilot's main support team

Human Submarine Interface, or HSI, is responsible for every aspect of the submarine that comes into contact with the pilot. This includes, but is not limited to, the hatch locking and opening mechanisms, pilot restraints and safety systems. In addition, HSI will act as a central hub for new members, providing them with ample assembly experience. New members will have the opportunity to work on the variety of HSI projects as well as provide additional manpower for other project teams


Building Submarines with Integrity

During the start of the year the team runs simulations for hull fluid analysis and stress analysis of all mechanical parts. This allows for optimization of the drag of the submarine to maximize the efficiency of the submarine. The team also verifies that there will be no failure of our mechanical systems while also optimizing material choices taking into account strength and weight. During the second half of the build season the team will be responsible for creating autonomous steering so that the pilot can focus on pedaling the submarine.  

International Submarine Race

Universities and independent groups from across the world compete in this race to seek the title of the "World's Fastest Human Powered Submarine."
Each team must design and build a one or two-person submarine using human powered propulsion. This propulsion can be divided into two categories, which are propeller and non-propeller.
With these divisions, there are a total of four different categories of submarines in the competition: one and two-person subdivisions of propeller and non-propeller class vehicles.



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For questions, comments, or requests, contact Tobin Gutermuth at

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