Everett’s OceanGate powers new submarine with ordinary technology

SEATTLE — OceanGate’s new submarine is steered with a video-game controller, uses computer fans in the air filtration system and shows sonar data on a consumer-grade flat screen.

Cyclops 1 uses everyday technology. But it is central to OceanGate’s ambitious business plan to open new markets in undersea operations, CEO Stockton Rush said.

The newly Everett-based company unveiled Cyclops on Wednesday at the Museum of History and Industry here. It was developed in partnership with the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

The sub is the size of a small school bus — 16 feet long and about 8 feet tall. The front end has a bubble canopy 57 inches across. Including a driver, the sub can carry five people. That’s about a third of OceanGate’s workforce, which recently moved to the Port of Everett’s Waterfront Center.

A former McDonnell Douglas test pilot, Rush started the privately held company in 2009 with Guillermo Söhnlein, who left OceanGate three years ago.

The company already has a long list of clients — mostly university researchers — who use the Antipodes submarine, a forerunner to the Cyclops.

Last August, the company had its best-known passenger, hip hop artist Ben Haggerty, or Macklemore, as he is better known. The Seattle native joined the crew of the Antipodes on a dive in Puget Sound to find sixgill sharks. The dive was filmed for the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” series, which Macklemore referenced in his No. 1 song, “Can’t Hold Us.”

There isn’t any gee-whiz technology in Cyclops. The sub runs off two Intel Nook computers.

What makes Cyclops remarkable is how versatile the sub is, Rush said while sitting in the driver’s seat, in the middle of the small interior.

“We’re all about giving people access to the ocean,” he said.

Most small submarines and underwater remotely operated vehicles are privately owned, making it difficult to rent one. But most companies, public agencies and academic researchers don’t need to own their own sub or ROV, Rush said.

He compared it to chartering a private jet versus buying one.

Potential customers range from university scientists to tourists to petroleum companies to the state’s Department of Transportation, Rush said.

Using an ROV, for example, it might take a week to inspect the underwater pontoons supporting the Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, he said.

An ROV is connected to an operator by tether, which limits its range.

“You drop it down to inspect one pontoon, and then you have to pull it up again, and go to the next one,” he said. “In this thing, I can just go from one pontoon to the next without coming up,” greatly reducing the time needed to inspect the entire bridge.

The sub already can outbid ROVs for many jobs, he said.

That is why the University of Washington got involved, said Bob Miyamoto, a researcher at the school’s Applied Physics Lab. “It was what fit in our budget.”

The sub has had five dives so far as part of sea trials. The company expects testing to be finished by June.

Two more subs are planned, both made with carbon-fiber-composite hulls. The Cyclops 2 is to be ready in June 2016, followed by Cyclops 3 in January 2017.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com.

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