On Wednesday 22 June, the TU Delft student team WASUB pitted the human-controlled submarine of their own design and build against Olympic swimmer Kyle Stolk, who will be competing in Rio for the Netherlands. The WASUB team edged Stolk out by 1.5 seconds. It was man versus machine at the Pieter van den Hoogenband swimming stadium in Eindhoven.

Lost trapdoor

For Stolk, it was a unique training session to race against a submarine that can go twice as fast as himself. WASUB team member Sander Leussink said: “It was so cool that WASUB won, especially since we lost our trapdoor halfway through the race, which created a lot of resistance. Our pilot, Robin, kept pedalling as fast as he could, winning the race with a time of 49.04 seconds.” Stolk, who finished the 100m race in 50.48 seconds, said afterwards: “I expected to be left way behind, but happily that wasn’t the case. It was a lot more exciting than I anticipated.” 

Future challenge

In June 2015, the WASUB team set the world speed record for human-powered submarines with an impressive 13.74 km/hour. Following the race against Stolk, the team will travel to England to compete against other submarine racing teams from all over the world in the European International Submarine Races in Gosport from 11 to 15 July. The new submarine will need to be not only fast but also extremely flexible. 

U-turn

During the competition in England, the submarine will be tested by a course that includes a U-turn and a slalom. This is extremely demanding for the pilot, who must simultaneously provide pedal power and manoeuvre the craft through the course’s twists and turns. It is a huge challenge for the pilot, clad in scuba gear in a flooded submarine five metres deep. Not everyone is capable of performing this feat; therefore two very athletic pilots with extensive diving experience will be chosen after undergoing a rigorous selection process.

Innovation

The latest WASUB model has been radically updated both outside and inside in order to enable the pilot to race as fast as possible. The hull is made entirely of carbon, making the craft extraordinarily strong and light. A hybrid mechanical/electrical propulsion system designed in collaboration with students from The Hague University of Applied Sciences is used to propel it forward and maintain the level of submersion. In another first, the team is working with Human Movement Sciences experts from VU University Amsterdam. They will ensure the pilot is as well-prepared for the race as possible. All of this will hopefully lead to a new slalom course record in England this summer.