18-year-old Builds Functioning Submarine


[Justin Beckerman] built a functioning one-man submarine. The thing is, this isn’t the first one that he’s built. Looking through the projects on his website we find almost no information about this build, but he does show off one previous model, as well as a couple of unmanned underwater rover projects.

The pressure hull of the sub is made from corrugated drainage pipe. This isn’t a bad idea as the tube is engineered to be buried in the ground and carry the load of earth on top of it. It’s designed to go down just 30 feet, which explains the lack of half-dome caps on either end; the pressure just isn’t that great at that depth. The buoy floating to his left is his tether to the surface. Fresh air is pumped from here into the sub. He’s also included safety features like a 20-minute air tank in case he gets into a bind, and a quick opening top hatch. That hatch is a hemisphere of clear acrylic which lets him view what’s around him.

You’ll learn more from the two video clips he posted. The Fox 5 news interview includes a shot of one of the messiest work benches we’ve seen. A messy bench is the sign of constant project construction, right?



[Thanks Greg via Technabob]

92 thoughts on “18-year-old Builds Functioning Submarine

      1. No kidding, here we are working with voltages that’ll probably blister our hands, maybe kill us if we are really stupid. This kid one ups us by adding a whole lake of pressure into the mix. Damn overachievers!

        1. Obviously this doesn’t just demand an answer, it demands an escalation. Someone needs to build the worlds first human driveable submersible tesla coil. Ideally it needs to be integrated with an audio amp so it can play Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper while you are moving 100 feet below the lake with 30,000 volts surging around you.

          My guess is that this could make fishing poles obsolete.

  1. I think using a corrugated plastic tube as a submarine body rather does count as a hack doesn’t it?

    I’m also glad to see someone who has a big idea run with it and actually make it rather than leave it sitting in their head or on a piece of paper.

    1. Since we’re making comedy references, all I could think of was the episode of Chris Elliot’s “Get A Life” where he builds a submarine from a kit he sent away for when he was 12. Cow and Chicken was awesome and sadly I only recently saw the submarine episode.

    1. You’re correct, It is currently a boat. If he can achieve neutral buoyancy and submerge then I’ll be willing to call it a submarine. There appears to be a picture of it with the water just up to the fish bowl but that’s it for proof that it even goes down at all. The hatch also looks extremely dubious at best. For now it’s a silly boat and he’s got nothing on Colombians.


  2. I had seen a chinese guy who had built a submarine with almost no money and scrap materials,he started with no knowledge and he completed it with trial and error.

    Those two submarines sort of look alike and they are both awesome.

  3. “Teenage Thomas Edison builds submarine for lake…”, so someone else made it and he just took credit for it? :-P (Cracked fan here).

    Great build though. I wish I had a deep enough body of water close by to try something similar. Good work.

  4. Until it actual works (i.e. dives/stays under water) it’s just a fancy full scale model.

    Good for the kid to build something on that scale, but it’s kind of sad that something that is basically a glorified tourist diving helmet (i.e. a air bubble tethered to the surface) gets so much media coverage (I guess they need something to feed to the majority of Americans that are publicly educated couch potatoes so they can go “oh ah” over).

      1. To be fair he did say that it wasn’t ready to submerge yet. Props to the kids for a mad project! I think the only disappointment was the fact this was covered before it was finished and that it was covered by fox.

    1. That’s not the point! You have to start somewhere.

      This kid probably learnt one hell of a lot while designing, building and testing these. That’s why he deserves the coverage. It’s people like him that actually apply themselves to real-world problems and challenges, and use their imagination to come up with solutions.

      Safety issues aside, full kudos. This is the kind of stuff that inspired me as a kid to do engineering at university. We need more people like him.

    2. You think that this “sub” is an equal pressure design, where the pressurized air is supplied by the buoy above? In this case, it would be really lame, since you don’t get any benefits of a sub. Like no decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis etc. Only the drawbacks of being in a big black drainage pipe with no real quick escape in case of emergency.

      But this would explain why his “pressure hull” has flat end caps and a hemisphere of real thin clear acrylic with no lock or sealing rings

    1. I think being 18 has a lot to do with it. I would be impressed with this in any case, but this is a young kid who made it happen.

      An 18 year old has to be pretty resourceful to figure this out, get all the parts and follow through with the build. I might have had the idea when I was that age, but I was way too lazy to actually do it.

      This is way beyond what other kids his age do. Mad props to him.

      1. When I was 18 I couldn’t afford to go out buying big chunks of pipe to build stuff out of. I still can’t. Could I have built it at 18? I’d like to think I could have, most of us reading this probably could have, but real question is how does he afford to build something like this?

  5. I wish people would stop judging the value of an item/project based off of, or under significant influence of, the age of the creator. Please take note I’m 17 as of tomorrow so this is a relate-able subject to me. Also props to the creator of the project, no matter your age this is a large scale project to take on, and it is an impressive thing to follow through with.

    1. Don’t rush to get treated the same exact same way as older adults. Believe me it isn’t as cool as it looks.

      The perception changes from being a cool innovative kid with the intelligence, drive and energy to make this amazing thing happen to being a probable whackjob who is doing something with money he should be using to support his family and will likely get himself killed.

      Priorities change as you get older. We should be encouraging young people to be doing crazy adventurous stuff. This is the time of life when that works. Later it gets much harder.

      The fact is that most of us are here because we really are a bunch of kids who never really grew up. Some of what you see and hear is probably a bit of envy. I know I would love to do something just like this, but I can pretty much promise you my wife would kill me if I tried.

      1. I wasn’t saying to treat him any different, I was just attempting to convey that the worth of the project or item should not be correlated with the age or for that matter, any quality of the creator. (there are probably some exceptions to this). I am the captain of an FRC team and I wouldn’t want to hear anything like “wow that is an impressive robot for a bunch of high school students”, I would much rather hear something like “wow that is an impressive robot”. I have no intention of being treated as an adult, as I am obviously still a kid, but I don’t want the worth of my contributions to be determined by that.

        1. @SuperTurd Projects for kids cannot be considered in the same league as projects for adults, for the same reason a female runner cannot compete in the same league as male runners. Got it?

          You are still a kid, full stop, end of conversation. One day when you grow older you will realize that pretty much anything will be possible for you to accomplish. The painful truth is that most projects will mostly only require time and money from you. Being the intellectual and executive skills only a small fraction of what it is required.

          Another thing you will learn is that while you probably are more knowledgeable than most other kids, there is much more you are still going to learn over the course of your adulthood. So don’t rush out to being treated like an adult or behaving like one, enjoy your childhood while it lasts…

          1. ” One day when you grow older you will realize that pretty much anything will be possible for you to accomplish.”

            I’m 33 and I disagree. As an adult you may have more knowledge, experience and resources but there is no time! Life priorities get in the way of projects like this. Kids with their summer vacations are in a much better position to do projects like this.. that is if they are motivated and can get the resources.

            There will probably be an entrepeneur or two who disagree with me but for them I offer a modifed statement.. “…you will realize that pretty much any profitable thing will be possible…”. That just means making the things that somebody else wants to pay for and frankly I think that’s boring.

  6. Too bad he doesn’t know electrical chemistry, he wouldn’t need a tether, but rather some garden supplies from a local hardware store..

    That same system would allow surface control from any depth. It’s require a regulation system using sensors though.

  7. He has made some pretty good progress on this. I hope he gets some good safe time diving in it.

    My preference would have been to built a tethered remote submersible. Not brave enough to ride one of my creations under water.

    1. Being a scuba diver with master certification.. this is actually a cool project.. the tethering isnt a bad idea.. specially if he can get the depth out of it.. the bouyency of something this big would have to be a bitch to achive. 30ft max depth is actually good for him.. as incase of an emergancy – he will be close enough to essentially escape and have a good chance of making it to the surface — as he would be under only 2 ATA – and the gas he is breathing really wouldnt be compressed enough to be worried about getting bent.

      I would still have a pony/bail out bottle and some real scuba gear with me in this however.. as most lakes have really limited visability.. (we dive all inland lakes for the most part in west michigan)

      Props to this kid and I would love to see details on this..

      1. I was thinking the same thing as well. Also some lift bags hooked to an air tank just incase. To do this right he should really have some safety divers as well. Maybe have the first dive be unmanned as well.

  8. cool! post an update when there is video of it diving. or even better a video from the cockpit underwater. I always find it tough to stick with a project that big long enough to complete it.

    1. Geesh Bob, wheres your adventurous spirit?

      It’s a measly 30ft of water, let the kid give Darwinism a run for his money.

      You wouldn’t by chance be from France would you?

      1. Darwinism would be fine if he was paddling, but 30ft is a bit deep into the gene pool.

        He’s *so* likely to be dead and *so* quickly too!

        Submarines are deadly at the best of times…

    1. “The safety pump works until the electronics short.”

      That depends on how complicated he built it. If he is depending on some microcontroler to fire the pump, then yeah it might be a problem. If it’s just a pump, mechanical switch and a direct connection to the battery then no. Water isn’t that conductive. Maybe it would be a problem in salt water? I don’t know.

  9. It’s very possibly a death trap. While he says the hatch is easy to open… it’s NOT going to be easy to open underwater. Hasn’t anyone seen the Mythbusters escape from a sinking car episode? The pressure of water against the hatch is possibly going to make that very hard to open. It’s got less area than a car door… but it’s probably still going to be hard.

    IF that 20 minutes of backup air works out, he can try to flood the thing, then open the hatch. It may be hard to flood the bubble section… maybe he can roll the thing and then open it.

    He needs some way to intentionally flood the thing quickly with an extremely safe backup air supply.

    1. 30 ft is more pressure than most people realize. We don’t feel it that much because our bodies are mostly incompressible water. The immediate effects of that depth are mostly felt in the few air pockets we have in our bodies, such as the ear canals.

      A quick way to visualize this weight is to think about a round 5 gallon bucket filled with water. Think how much that weighs. Now think how much it would weigh if it was 30 ft tall. That is the pressure pushing down on the submarine and more importantly the hatch you may need to open in an emergency. The whole interior of the sub is an air pocket in this case. To open that hatch at 30 ft deep you will either need to exert a ton (possibly a literal ton) of force on it or you need to equalize the pressure inside and out.

      I hope I get this right, but by my calcs a circular hatch that is 2.5 ft across has a surface area of 4.9 square feet. At 30 feet down this is a column of water that has a volume of 147 cubic ft of water. At 60 degrees the specific weight of water is 62.37 lbs per cubic foot. This gives us ~9180 lbs of water holding that hatch down. Hmm, a bit more than my ton estimate.

      I think it is great that he is doing this project, I also hope he does his research and carefully designs a way to get out (such as flooding the sub).

  10. Håkan Lans built a submarine himself which went to a depth of 100 meters, in 1968. He was then 18 years old. The submare was called Doppingen and was tested in Saxfjärden.

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