Moving Machines: Downwardly Mobile

<< Back to Robb Report, August 2002
  • Bill Lindsey

Recently, several Disney executives took a ride off Catalina Island in a SEAmobile, a two-person, 15-foot submarine. The SEAmobile gave them an up close view of fish and coral through the submarine’s clear acrylic bubble.  

Afterward, they described the SEAmobile experience with a trademark Disney phrase: time to veil. The term describes how long it takes for people visiting Disney World, for example, to cross the veil of imagination and enter the realm of magic. The Disney officials remarked that in the SEAmobile, the time to veil was almost instantaneous.  

William Kohnen, president of SEAmagine Hydrospace Corp., which builds the SEAmobile, says the magic is a result of the acrylic bubble. Once the submarine submerges, he says the human eye cannot tell the difference between water and acrylic, so the Disney executives tried to touch the water. “The first thing you will do is reach out,” Kohnen says. “You reach out until you touch the glass. You reassure yourself that it isn’t a magic force field.”  

In the SEAmobile (which is constructed of metal, fiberglass, and plastic), passengers expe-rience none of the pressure changes, colder water temperatures, or other discomforts associated with scuba diving. Oxygen flows into the cabin, and carbon dioxide emissions are filtered out of the submarine, giving the SEAmobile one-atmosphere cabin pressure. There is enough oxygen in the SEA-mobile’s system for the sub to operate under water for 72 hours.  

Electric motors drive its propellers, foot pedals adjust the speed (a 2-mph maximum), and a joystick steers the SEAmobile, which can dive to 300 feet.  

The Institute of Nautical Archaeology, an organization that studies shipwrecks and underwater sites, recently purchased a SEAmobile. The institute, in conjunction with Texas A&M University, has been using it to explore Turkish underwater ruins. “For a while last year, using the SEAmobile submersible, we were finding a wreck a day off the coast of Turkey,” says George Bass, cofounder of the institute. “That’s enough to keep archaeologists busy for the next 50 years.”  

SEAmagine Hydrospace Corp., 909.626.6262, www.seamagine.com

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