human powered submarine

Human Powered Submarine at Virginia Tech

Human Powered Submarine at Virginia Tech (HPS) is a student-run team that designs, builds, tests, and races a fully flooded human-powered submarine. We provide students with the opportunity to apply engineering knowledge in a practical setting, foster understanding of the design process, and develop the critical skills required to become intuitive and well-rounded engineers. The Foundation for Underwater Research & Education (FURE) has sponsored the International Submarine Race for over 25 years with the intention to advocate for the ocean and marine engineering fields. This biennial competition is hosted by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division, where we compete with the best engineering teams from around the world.


At Virginia Tech, our Human Powered Submarine engineering design team stands out due to its unique student-driven nature. With over 50 active engineering students, our team is united by a shared love for innovative design, meticulous construction, and the thrill of racing underwater vehicles.

Our team's success and innovative spirit is attributed to our dedicated members. However, the invaluable support from corporate sponsors has been instrumental in our achievements. Their generous contributions empowered us to design, construct, and race Trident at the 15th International Submarine Races in 2019, held at the Carderock Naval Base in Bethesda, MD. The Trident made over 20 race attempts — the highest by any submarine.

This summer, our newest submarine, Kraken, took to the waters. Renowned experts in the field lauded Kraken for its exceptionally hydrodynamic hull during the ISR 17 competition. Both Kraken and Nautilus successfully crossed the finish line, an impressive feat given that we were the only college team racing two submarines. The challenges were immense, but the rewards were even greater. In ISR 17, Kraken earned 3rd place in the single propeller racing speed category and secured 5th place overall.


2023-2024 Submarine Project Overview:

In the current academic year, we have strategically restructured our team into two distinct units: a Senior Design Team and a Volunteer Team. This change facilitates academic recognition for our dedicated students, many of whom have devoted a sizable portion of their college career to this team. They will now benefit from college credits and the guidance of an academic advisor to ensure the integrity and excellence of our designs.

Traditionally, our modus operandi has been a two-year build cycle: one year dedicated to conceptualizing new systems and enhancing the features of the existing submarine, followed by a year of construction and rigorous testing. However, for the 2023-2024 academic year, we have adopted an ambitious approach, compressing the design, construction, and testing phases into a single year.

Our preliminary design plans for this year show innovative enhancements aimed at optimizing our racing performance. Key among these, is the introduction of an automatic ballasting system to maintain the submarine's equilibrium in water and the integration of an electronic, autonomous actuated controls system. This advanced system is designed to alleviate the pilot from direct control responsibilities, allowing their focus to remain on powering the submarine.


Our achievements and continuous evolution would not have been possible without the unwavering support of our sponsors. In this spirit, we extend our gratitude to Shearwater for their invaluable contribution to our team. The donation of the TERN TX and Swift Transmitter systems will represent a significant advancement in our operational capabilities. These state-of-the-art devices will empower our pilots to monitor dives and air consumption with increased accuracy and safety. During the rigorous testing phases and the adrenaline-filled moments of competition, these tools will be instrumental in enhancing our performance and ensuring the wellbeing of our team members and especially the submarine’s pilot. Shearwater's generosity not only aids in our current engineering ability but also sets a foundation for safety and excellence as we prepare for the challenges ahead, including our participation in ISR18.

As we continue the 2023-2024 academic year with ambitious goals, we are reminded of the critical role that our sponsors play in our journey. Shearwater's support is an excellent example of how corporate partnerships can significantly impact educational and engineering projects, enabling students to achieve remarkable feats while prioritizing safety and innovation. We are immensely thankful for Shearwater's contribution, which will allow us to conduct more effective and safer testing, both in the Blacksburg quarry and during competition.


We strongly believe that finding new engineering solutions helps us stay competitive worldwide. These efforts excite our team and make our sponsors proud, building a team spirit of excitement and creativity as we get ready for ISR18. If you would like to see more of our journey, please visit our website at: or follow our Instagram @vthps for more team updates.