We often think of submarines as fairly complex pieces of machinery, and for good reason. Keeping the electronics watertight can naturally be quite difficult, and maintaining neutral buoyancy while traveling underwater is a considerable engineering challenge. But it turns out that if you’re willing to skip out on those fairly key elements of submarine design, the whole thing suddenly becomes a lot easier. Big surprise, right?
That’s precisely how [Peter Sripol] approached his latest project, which he’s claiming is the world’s smallest remote control submarine. We’re not qualified to say if that’s true or not, but we were certainly interested in seeing how he built the diminutive submersible. Thanks to the fact that it started life as one of those cheap infrared helicopters, it’s actually a fairly approachable project if you’re looking to make one yourself.
After testing that the IR communication would actually work as expected underwater, [Peter] liberated the motors and electronics from the helicopter. The motor’s wires were shortened, and the receiver PCB got a slathering of epoxy to try and keep the worst of the water out, but otherwise they were unmodified.
If you’re wondering how the ballast system works, there isn’t one. The 3D printed body angles the motors slightly downwards, so when the submarine is moving forward it’s also being pulled deeper into the water. There aren’t any control surfaces either, differential thrust between the two motors is used to turn left and right. This doesn’t make for a particularly nimble craft, but in the video after the break it certainly looks like they’re having fun with it.
All through the cold war, there was a high-stakes game of cat and mouse in play. Nuclear powers like the United States and the Soviet Union would hide submarines armed with nuclear missiles underwater. The other side would try to know where they were so they could be targeted in the event of war. The common wisdom was that the United States had many high tech gadgets to help track enemy submarines, but that the Soviet Union was way behind in this area. This was proven false when a Soviet Victor-class boat followed a US missile submarine for six days. Now, a recently declassified CIA report shows how the Soviets didn’t use sonar at all but developed their own technology.
There is something fascinating about submarines. Like an old sailing ship, submarines are often out of touch with their command bases and the captain is the final authority. Like a space ship, the submarine has to survive in an inimical environment. I guess in all three cases, the crew doesn’t just use technology, they depend on it.
Although the submarine has some non-military uses, there are probably more military subs than any other type. After all, a sub is as close to a cloaking device as any real-life military vehicle has ever had. Before modern technology offered ways to find submarines using sonar or magnetic anomalies, a completely submerged submarine was effectively invisible.
There was a lot of speculation that the Soviet Union lacked sufficient technology to use sonar the way the US did. However, in some cases, they had simply developed different types of detection — many of which the West had discarded as impractical.
Submarines are universally considered cool, but bring several challenges to the RC modeller that aren’t there with land and air builds. Water ingress can ruin your project, and there’s always the possibility of it sinking to the bottom, never to return. That didn’t phase [Brick Experiment Channel], however, and thus a Lego sub was born. (Video embedded below the break.)
The sub uses a water jug as a hull. The video steps through the process of sealing the hull itself, before dealing with sealing the rotating propeller shafts. A large syringe is used as a ballast tank, with Lego motors used to actuate the tank and provide propulsion and steering. An existing RC submarine is cannabilized for parts, providing the necessary radio control hardware.
In testing, the sub performs admirably, with a few final tweaks necessary to improve the performance of the propellers. It’s not winning any races anytime soon, but it’s a functional underwater explorer that we’d love to take down the lake ourselves sometime.
It is fun to make a toy vehicle with Lego, but it is even more fun to make one that actually works. [PeterSripol] made two Lego submarines, and you can see them in the video below. There isn’t a lot of build information, but watching the subs fire missiles and then getting destroyed by depth charges is worth something.
One of the subs is larger and uses a rudder to steer. It was apparently harder to control than the other smaller sub which used two motors thrusting opposite one another to steer. Looks like fun.
Setting a bottle adrift with a message in it is, by most measures, an act of desperation. The sea regularly swats mighty ships to their doom, so what chance would a tiny glass bottle have bobbing along the surface, subject as it is to wind, waves, and current? Little to none, it would seem, unless you skew the odds a bit with a wave-powered undersea glider to the help the bottle along.
Before anyone gets too worked up about this, [Rulof Maker]’s “Sea Glider” is about a low-tech as a device with moving parts can be. This craft, built from a scrap of teak and a busted wooden ruler, is something that could be assembled in a few hours from whatever you have on hand, even if you’re marooned on an uncharted desert isle. The body of the craft sprouts a set of horizontal planes that can swivel up and down independently. The key to providing a modicum of thrust is that each plane is limited to a 90° swing by stop blocks above and below the pivot. The weighted glider, tethered to the bottle, bobs up and down below the waves, flapping the planes and providing a tiny bit of thrust.
Was it enough to propel the bottle any great distance? We won’t ruin the surprise, but we will say that [Rulof]’s essentially zero-cost build appears to have improved the message in a bottle bandwidth at least somewhat. It’s not a Hackaday Prize-winning robotic sea glider, but it’s a neat hack nonetheless.
By the early 20th century, naval warfare was undergoing drastic technological changes. Ships were getting better and faster engines and were being outfitted with wireless communications, while naval aviation was coming into its own. The most dramatic changes were taking place below the surface of the ocean, though, as brave men stuffed themselves into steel tubes designed to sink and, usually, surface, and to attack by stealth and cunning rather than brute force. The submarine was becoming a major part of the world’s navies, albeit a feared and hated one.
For as much animosity as there was between sailors of surface vessels and those that chose the life of a submariner, and for as vastly different as a battleship or cruiser seems from a submarine, they all had one thing in common: the battle against the sea. Sailors and their ships are always on their own dealing with forces that can swat them out of existence in an instant. As a result, mariners have a long history of doing whatever it takes to get back to shore safely — even if that means turning a submarine into a sailboat.
When word first broke that Elon Musk was designing a kid-sized submarine to help rescue the children stuck in Thailand’s Tham Luang cave, it seemed like a logical thing for Hackaday to cover. An eccentric builder of rockets and rocket-launched electric sports cars, pushing his engineering teams and not inconsiderable financial resources into action to save children? All of that talk about Elon being a real life Tony Stark was about to turn from meme into reality; if the gambit paid off, the world might have it’s first true superhero.
With human lives in the balance, and success of the rescue attempt far from assured (regardless of Elon’s involvement), we didn’t feel like playing arm-chair engineer at the time. Everyone here at Hackaday is thankful that due to the heroics of the rescuers, including one who paid the ultimate price, all thirteen lives were saved.
Many said it couldn’t be done, others said even saving half of the children would have been a miracle. But Elon’s submarine, designed and built at a breakneck pace and brought to Thailand while some of the children were still awaiting rescue, laid unused. It wasn’t Elon’s advanced technology that made the rescue possible, it was the tenacity of the human spirit.
Now, with the rescue complete and the children well on their way to returning to their families, one is left wondering about Elon’s submarine. Could it have worked?