Justin Beckerman, an 18-year-old high school student from New Jersey, built and wired a fully-functional, one-man submarine, mostly made of the lightweight, yet strong, grooved plastic usually used in piping.
The construction feat is less than surprising to those familiar with Beckerman’s talent — he’s been engineering products out of various building materials since he was two years old, the teenager told Business Insider.
Beckerman salvages every old or broken device he can find, along with donations from friends and neighbours, and occasional trips to electronics recycling facilities with his dad.
He’s built remote-controlled vacuums, miniature model jet engines, and headsets that can play DVDs. The submarine is by far the teen’s biggest project to date.
Justin’s father, Ken Beckerman, says he learned early on to give his son space, support, and freedom to tinker with things: “[Justin] will tell me something is going to work, and to me it doesn’t make any sense or its not possible. Instead of telling him that it can’t happen or it’s not real, I just let it sit … I’m supportive in letting him do his thing, and letting him dream.”
Justin has been building things since he was a young child. His submarine drew on the knowledge he's acquired over the years. Apart from the mechanical and electrical know-how, Justin worked in some of his interest in aeronautics: He modelled some of the components in the sub off things found on aeroplanes.
Aside from looking up the underwater pressure at his target depth of 30 feet, Beckerman says he did not do much research online.
He set up a workstation in his family's basement, and even custom-built a cart to hold the sub. His many tools included a circular saw, a Sawzall, a voltmeter, and a soldering iron.
The submarine's circuitry requires 2,000 feet of wire, to power lights, sensors on the ballast tanks, the compressor, fan, motor, pump, and many other pieces of equipment, Beckerman said.
Beckerman picked up his electronics skills by wiring a tree fort with remote-control outlets and lighting. The amount of wire needed for this project kept him busy for two days just feeding wires through the hull of the sub.
Then he buys whatever parts he does not already have and splits the cost with his father. He keeps detailed accounts for every project, listing every debit and credit.
Beckerman has made several previous attempts to build a submarine, but this latest is his most successful. His last venture, a sub made out of plastic containers and duct tape, didn't hold pressure and collapsed.
The first time Justin submerged his most recent craft, he was amazed, even though the top of the submarine was just a few inches below the surface.
There's a radio on the sub, breathing systems, and two backup batteries in case anything goes wrong.
The process has not been without hiccups. When he first tried to submerge, he needed his younger brothers to climb on top of the craft to stabilise it.
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