SeaQuest SeaQuest

The challenge to create a 3D printed boat capable of breaking a world record!

What do you get when you put a group of engineers together in a pub? No, that’s not the opening of a joke but the reality of one of our most recent projects. The answer is that at first you get chaos, then you get creativity and then boom, before you know it you have a full-blown experimental project on your hands, culminating in a possible world record attempt. That project is SeaQuest, a project supported by RS Components, DesignSpark, Reading Hackspace and the Imperial College London.

SeaQuest is our latest video series and follows our eclectic group as they battle through the highs & lows of planning, prototyping, creating and testing a remote controlled, 3D printed boat, capable of breaking a World Record. This series is packed full of fun, excitement and fire, (yes, things don’t always go to plan), so follow our team as they discover the pitfalls, along with the excitement as it starts to come together, and they gain access to the world’s biggest water tank!

In the beginning…

About 6 years ago, RS colleague Pete Wood, plus some clever engineers from the Reading Hackspace (RLab), (a space for makers, menders, re-purposers, creators, sharers and teachers), undertook an amazing challenge. Mattel Toys approached DesignSpark, RS’s Design Engineering platform and community, to help them send one of their Superman action figures into space., The team created a capsule, crammed it with electronics and attached him to a weather balloon. They successfully launched him to reach the edge of Space, where he was ejected, and his descent tracked to an unceremonious landing in a tree!

In fact, Superman and details of his epic journey have since travelled the world, appearing at schools, events and maker faires. The objective of the exercise being to inspire our next generation of engineers.

Well, it seems, you can’t hold a bunch of clever engineers down! Since Superman’s flight they have been searching for the next great challenge, to show the fun and innovative side of engineering and continue to inspire would-be engineers.

They didn’t have to wait long. Pete, Maker, engineer and self-acclaimed Geek from our engineering platform, DesignSpark, hit upon an idea while contemplating in the bath – why not try a challenge that involves water!

The plan formulated into designing a boat, building it using 3D printing and then setting out to break a world record – easy, right?

Who are the team?

There is a diverse team, all friends, who have met along the way, either at Reading Maker Space or at different events - all with different skill sets:

  • Pete Wood - DesignSpark, RS Components
  • Gary Fletcher – Semi retired Chief Technical Officer and Fellow at Imperial College London Advanced Hackspace.
  • Richard Ibbotson – retired engineer,
  • Ryan White – engineer, engineer of BBC TV’s Big Life Fix
  • David Miller – Imperial College London Hackspace Fellow in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Alex Gibson – maker and 3D printing GURU.
Some of the gang!
Some of the gang

Where to begin!

It certainly was a challenge to the team, because despite all their varied skill sets, no-one had any marine or boat building experience.

Working with Seawater is a challenge in itself, it can seep into the tiniest of cracks and disable electronics, it can quickly begin to corrode insufficiently sealed power connectors, not to mention the fact that it’s difficult to penetrate with radio signals, so they potentially could lose contact in shallow depths.

They settled on a boat design that was based on a Kontiki style fishing boat, which was a torpedo shape and should therefore cut through the waves. Choosing to use 3D Printing to build the boat meant that the designs could benefit from rapid prototyping and then be shared for others to build their own.

The work on the prototypes, (of which there were many), began in earnest. The hulls, motor propellers and jet diffuser were all 3D printed and coupled with products from RS, such as: tools, boxes, wire, bolts, foam filament etc. They also used standard off-the-shelf radio control gear.

Despite some setbacks, such as the 3D printing failing on day 2 of a 3-day print run, the team were close to a design that they felt was reliable enough.

The prototypes began to gather...

Where to test?

Our intrepid team took their prototypes to various places to test, from the Mid Thames Model Boat Club in Reading, to lakes and the sea. Probably the most impressive testing facility they encountered was at in the world’s biggest water test tank at QinetiQ Haslar UK, normally used for constrained hydrodynamic model tests of ships and submarines, to name a few!

Gary & Pete testing in the lake
Testing in the lake

So, what is the plan?

The guys planned to cross the English Channel to France, which led to some very challenging conversations with the French Coastguard - would they say ‘oui’ or ‘non’? Find out more in the video.

They looked at the criteria for breaking world records, but some were unsuitable, and others had changed their scope. Undefeated, although a little deflated, they decided to cut their teeth by sailing across the Solent, from Hurst Castle to the Needles on the Isle of Wight – approximately 10 miles. With that in their pocket, the plan was to then revisit the scope of the World record, make some design changes and go for it!!

In sight of Brownsea Island
In sight of Brownsea Island

How did they do?

Well, watch our video series to find out and follow them on an eventful journey that includes:

  • 3D printing fails 2 days into a 3-day print
  • Boats warping in hot cars,
  • Exploding hulls from overfilling with expanding foam
  • Water frazzling electronics
  • Boats catching on fire because the engine control units overheat.
  • Water corrosion in connectors within minutes of exposure.
  • Issues with self-righting, propulsion, steering and auto navigation
  • Challenging conversations with the French Coast Guard...
You can also find out more on DesignSpark
Gary getting to grips with the weeds
Getting to grips with the weeds

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