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seven inches thick to withstand the massive pressures deep below the surface. Many electronics systems such as sonar, motor controllers, and power conditioning equipment will be housed in glass spheres that sit outside the hull, connected by a single fiber-optic cable. That reduces the number of hull penetrations, which cause stress on the material.
The company aims to have the Cyclops 2 hull completed by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, OceanGate has Antipodes and Cyclops 1 to practice operations and demonstrate its capabilities ahead of planned commercial operations beginning next year. OceanGate expeditions to date include tracking sixgill sharks in Elliott Bay, lionfish off of south Florida, and shipwrecks around Puget Sound.
The two steel-hulled hubs sitting inside the Port of Everett warehouse are both cylindrical in shape with large, clear, forward-looking domes that afford an excellent view.
Inside, the differences are many. To turn on the lights of Antipodes, Rush goes through five steps. In Cyclops 1, a remote control activates LED strips behind perforated aluminum panels, casting a soft, daylight-like glow throughout the inside. The two vessels are roughly the same 53 inches inside diameter–similar to a Chevy Suburban—but Cyclops, thanks to the modern lighting, feels much less cramped.
The controls, too, are dramatically different. On Antipodes, OceanGate installed an industrial joystick to control the thrusters, replacing old-style individual controllers. It cost about $1,200. “I can hand it to anybody and you can drive the sub,” Rush says. The craft has a few dozen switches that must be memorized by everyone on board so they can be identified and operated in the dark.
On Cyclops 1, they’ve gone a step further, employing a wireless PlayStation game controller that costs about $29 and is immediately familiar to anyone who grew up playing video games. Indicator lights that are hard-wired into most subs have been replaced with an off-the-shelf wireless alarm system from GE. The goal is to keep as much of the sub’s systems wireless to make it easy to add components.
“If you design something simply, it should be intuitive so that when panic strikes, you do what seems natural,” Rush says. “A lack of familiarity, I think, is what makes people nervous.”
Both subs are outfitted with multi-beam sonar from BlueView, which Rush describes as a strategic partner. This technology is key to the safe operation of the subs, Rush says. The two biggest risks on subs, he says, are fires on board and entanglement. The multi-beam sonar is capable of making out subtle details and small objects such as fishing nets that can be difficult to see in the low-visibility waters of Puget Sound. “Nobody can believe we operate subs in this area, in high current,” Rush says. “But you can do it with these new sonar systems where what you see is what you get. There’s not an interpretive need and it’s extremely high detail.”
Comfort, too, is key. Not only does the lighting make the Cyclops sub feel more spacious, its layout allows space for crew members to take a nap or relieve themselves—in the back, between the oxygen tanks—on longer dives.
“It’s our belief that you do your best work when you’re comfortable,” Rush says. “Researchers aren’t thinking about the subject matter when their back hurts or they have to go to the bathroom or something else.”
Until now, comfort and simplicity have not been design principles for most submersibles, Rush says, mainly because very few of them are being made. The opportunity to bring the kind of design improvements made in other fields to subs captured Rush’s imagination.
“You can see the technology making its way from aviation, through cars, through your home, through your lawnmower. Everything’s going that way. But subs? Nothing. No innovation,” Rush says. “And yet it’s three planets’ worth of stuff”—the area covered by water on Earth is a little less than three times that of land—“and you think that maybe having a useful vehicle for going down there would be at least somewhere on the checklist.”