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Ware Lab Series: Human Powered Submarine

Updated: Nov 17, 2021



What is your name, major, and role?


Corral: My name is Audrie Corral and I am the President of the Human Powered Submarine Team (HPS). I am a senior majoring in Materials Science Engineering.


Hersh: My name is Gillian Hersh and I am the Vice President of the Human Powered Submarine Team. I am a senior majoring in Aerospace Engineering.


What is Human Powered Submarine?


Hersh: HPS is a design team based out of the Ware Lab and we are tasked with building a human-powered submarine, which is an underwater craft that can be pedaled like a bicycle. We have two-year design cycles, so we spend one year designing and one year building, and then we have a competition every two years. The goal of that competition is to ultimately have the fastest and best-performing human-powered submarine.


Photo / the Human Powered Submarine team
Photo / the Human Powered Submarine team

Why should students get involved with HPS and what are some of the benefits of being on the team?


Corral: Students should join HPS because we welcome students of all experience levels and all majors. You can be useful to the team no matter what background you have. We emphasize the learning aspect of design and manufacturing, and that’s what drew me to HPS in the first place.


Hersh: It’s a rare thing to do something in the College of Engineering where you’re part of the process from conception through testing and competition, so it’s really cool that you can be part of that twice within the time that you’re here for our submarine. Joining HPS is a great way to get some real-world engineering experience and work on a big team, and it also allows everyone to be a part of the entire process rather than just one singular part.


Corral: Everybody and the work that they do is driven by pure passion for the project and the people on the team. We do the project for each other as much as for wanting to complete the project, so that creates an atmosphere that you wouldn’t get with senior design teams. We’re more exploratory in what we pursue and in the way that we go about completing our project. Our project is also very unique; you’re not going to find anybody else making a submarine!


Photo / the Human Powered Submarine team
Photo / the Human Powered Submarine team

Do you have to be a specific major or grade to join?


Hersh: Most of our members are ocean or aerospace engineering majors, but we don’t require you to be either of those things. I think HPS is a project that appeals to those majors more so than others, but we still have had quite a few electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and other majors on the team. We’ve had people come onto our team that were seniors, but primarily freshmen and sophomores are the ones looking to join.


Corral: We emphasize that anyone and everybody can be valuable to the team, and the reason why that is is because that was made very clear to me when I first joined. I was trying to find which design team I would be useful to and HPS recruited me. During my freshman year, the president was also a materials science engineer, so I was able to relate to him and he was able to tell me how he’s been useful to the team.


What is the design/competition process for HPS?


Hersh: We have a two-year design cycle. Usually, the first year focuses on designing and prototyping the submarine systems and getting a hull at least partially made. The second year is fully dedicated to manufacturing the current sub with a little bit of time given to think about the design of the next sub. At the end of year two in the summer, we go to the International Submarine Races, a competition that’s sponsored by Booz Allen and held at Carderock, a navy base in Maryland. There are five days of racing and there’s usually anywhere between 17 and 22 other submarines. It’s an international competition. We have teams coming from different places in Europe and there’s another team from Mexico, so it’s cool that this race is available internationally. At the end of the races, they have a little awards ceremony and then we get right back into building the next sub.


Corral: We’re also testing throughout that whole two-year process. We do at least two pool tests a semester and we’ve also done a quarry test in the past, which is an open water test. This year, our competition has been switched to a virtual format and it’s going to consist of mostly report writing. There is a real-time problem-solving challenge that they are going to present to us in June.


Hersh: We made the executive decision that we’re going to continue our normal design process as we would under normal circumstances. We are allowed into the Ware Lab and we obviously have very strict COVID guidelines, but most of the team has been

comfortable continuing work on the sub. We’ve decided to proceed like we are going to have a competition with a submarine at the end of the year because that helps us not get behind, and it boosts team morale. Also, two years down the line, Virginia Tech could take two submarines to the races: this one that we’re currently making and a new one.


What is the best thing/favorite moment you have gotten out of HPS?


Corral: Back in April of 2019, we really needed our control surfaces to be made for a pool test that was scheduled for a Saturday, so we were on a super tight timeline. The casting process for those control surfaces involves waiting for them to cure, so we ended up sleeping overnight at the Ware Lab. Somebody was actually in the submarine sleeping and someone else was on the lab table, so that was a really fun night.


Hersh: I have always really enjoyed the company of everybody on the team. Everybody is really cool and we get along well! Competition was one of my favorite times because we were able to bond really well with each other. Competition could’ve been really

stressful, but we made it not so, which was awesome and I really appreciated it.


Any last thoughts for potential team members?


Corral: Join HPS! We would love to have you.


Hersh: I second that! Whether you join HPS or not, don’t be afraid to join a design team. It’s so much fun, you make lifelong friends, and you get pretty intense hands-on experiences that you probably wouldn’t get in class.

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