Taniwha wins human-powered sub world champion races

20 July 2016
Taniwha Gosport Lido
The Taniwha team at the eISR race venue in Gosport at the public Open Day with their special visitor (on right), the Director of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, Professor Peter Hunter. The crew are from left, Associate Professor Iain Anderson (manager), Sanjay Surendran (diver), Chris Walker (pilot), Gerrit Becker (diver), Ben Pocock (diver) and Stefan Jaeger (diver)

The New Zealand human-propelled submarine Taniwha, has won a world title for human propelled submarines after a week of timed races in Gosport in England.

These water-filled subs are all about three metres long and peddled by a pilot who breathes air on scuba.

The Taniwha team, from the University of Auckland, last week won this year’s European International Submarine Race’s (eISR) overall trophy plus the trophies for most reliable sub and best non-propeller powered sub.

The team competed against 10 other teams from Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA. The Auckland team was the only one from the Southern Hemisphere.

“The eISR Trophy (and two bottles of fine champagne) was the overall big prize,” says Taniwha team leader, Professor Iain Anderson from the Biomimetics Lab at the University of Auckland. “We beat the propeller boats in this open category including the current world record holders for a single person propeller powered sub.”

The team of six that included submarine pilot, Chris Walker (a PhD student in the Biomimetics Lab at the University’s Auckland Bioengineering Institute), were disappointed to miss out on a world record time for a non-propeller single pilot sub by only 0.3 of a knot.

“We didn't get the world record speed,” says Iain. “The International Submarine Races organization (USA) confirmed that the record for the human powered one person, non propeller class was 4.90 knots. We reached 4.67 knots on Thursday.

“This is pretty fast for a human to propel a mass of about 700 kg of sub in enclosed water,” he says. “To go the extra 0.3 knots would have required 13 percent more power from Chris in an unmodified boat.”

“On Friday we sawed about two centimetres off the stabiliser fins on each side and applied more tape to reduce drag,” he says. “Speed and control are opposites. If you want to go faster you have to give up some control - so this was risky.”

“Friday was also the Agility Competition - twice around the course. We needed more air to get Chris around that distance, so we replaced the sub’s five litre air tank with a much bigger 10 litre air tank,” he says. “This interfered with Chris' leg movements.”

“Despite two valiant twice around the course ‘Agility’ attempts during which time the sub nearly crashed and a final ‘last sprint record attempt through the timing gates (at 4.4 knots), we couldn't break the record,” says Iain. “But we have the second fastest non-propellor single person sub in the world, and our overall performance and presentation won the top prize at this international competition”

“We also got the reliability trophy because we didn’t abort once in 18 runs around the circuit,” says Iain. “That’s about five kilometres underwater. New Zealand has proven to the world that Taniwha is a top sub with a top team.”

The week-long European International Submarine Races were organised by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) at Gosport and hosted by QinetiQ in its Ocean Basin at Haslar which is Europe’s biggest covered water freshwater space. (Here is a link to an eISR video about the competitions.)

“They were very impressed with our innovative bending tail on the sub that takes the place of a rudder,” says Iain. “The rear section of the Taniwha bends back and forth like a fish and enables the Taniwha to turn without a rudder.

“We tested that out carefully in Auckland and proved it could be done so that we were confident it would work when we were in the races.

“Our pilot, Chris Walker, was in the sub for all of the races all week which was remarkable, and I know he really enjoyed it,” he says. “We completed every single run without having to abort once and so did better than any other sub competing.

“I’m proud that we were the top non-propeller sub there, and took the top prize against both non-prop and propeller powered subs, “says Iain.

“The big difference for us that enabled us to do so well, was the time we have had in the water in Auckland, practising and refining the Taniwha – getting in the pool and getting as much practice as we could before the competition.”

“That enabled the team to get experience operating the sub and knowing it’s perculiarities,” he says. “We have been working at this for three years now and testing out evolving changes, careful that they don’t make the sub unstable.”

It also included developing the essential sign language communication between Chris the pilot in the sub, and the team.

The Taniwha crew return to New Zealand this week ahead of their sub which is being shipped by sea freight back home, to arrive in late August or early September.

The Taniwha project has been largely dependent on corporate sponsorship and donations from supporters. Corporate sponsors included Air New Zealand, Mainfreight, BodyWorks Panelbeaters, Dive NZ Magazine, GlobalDive.net, Jackson Electrical Industries, Sequel Wetsuits, and Pope Packaging. Special thanks to the University: Auckland Bioengineering Institute, the Department of Engineering Science, and the Centre for Advanced Composite Materials.

"We are extremely grateful to all our donors, in particular to Paul Williams and all those who gave via the team’s GiveALittle web page. We are now fundraising for next year," says Professor Anderson.

Engineering student, Min Sang Kim talks about working on the Taniwha project, as a summer scholar, in this video link.

For media enquiries, email Suzi Phillips, Media Advisor Auckland Bioengineering Institute.

Taniwha eISR in pool 2016
The Taniwha after a launch in the pool at the eISR races in Gosport, UK last week.