By Randy Bolerjack, WSU Everett
When a five-person submersible descends to the floor of the North Atlantic this summer, part of a historic series of private excursions to map the famed RMS Titanic’s wreckage in 3-D imagery, it will be WSU Everett students that helped make it possible.
“The whole electrical system – that was our design, we implemented it and it works,” said Mark Walsh, a 2017 WSU Everett graduate in electrical engineering from the WSU Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. “We are on the precipice of making history and all of our systems are going down to the Titanic. It is an awesome feeling!”
Developed by Everett-based OceanGate, the Titan, a Cyclops-class submersible, is being built at the Port of Everett. It uses an advanced carbon-fiber hull, but also technology as simple as off-the-shelf gaming controllers. Up to eight-hour dives will include 90 minutes to go down and back, leaving up to five hours for exploring the world’s most famous shipwreck, located about 400 miles off the Newfoundland coast in 12,000 feet of ocean.
The links between OceanGate and WSU Everett began as part of a group tour of the company’s facilities by students in the University’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers club. Walsh was the club’s treasurer at the time and explained that when OceanGate’s director of engineering, Tony Nissen, described during the tour some of the challenges the company faced, Walsh and fellow student Nick Nelson volunteered solutions. “Tony said, ‘OK, you’re hired.’”
Walsh started as an intern and opened the door for Nelson to join the team before both accepted full-time jobs following graduation. He is now the electrical engineering lead at OceanGate. “If electrons flow through it, I’m in charge of it,” he said with a laugh. That ranges from monitors, keyboards and tablets to the Wi-Fi and sonar.
He leads a team of five, including Nelson and two WSU Everett interns. Nelson is the system integration and test engineer.
“We’ve created a whole ‘Internet of Things’ network on the sub, so you control functions like the lights by just sending a message over Ethernet,” Nelson said. “I’m super happy with that.”
Jessica Woods was hired as an intern after Walsh saw her work in a WSU Everett engineering class. Nelson recommended senior Doug Yamamoto, who earned an internship because of his software engineering experience. These internships take hands-on learning to a new level – in this case, below sea level.
The relationship is one of many examples of industry partnerships with WSU Everett that support academic programs and career opportunities for students.
“I like that we have a close relationship with WSU Everett because the interns have been so great,” Walsh said. “They’ve been taught right at WSU Everett, so this summer we’re going to be hiring more.”
From the lab to the deep blue sea
“There are some inherent benefits for students coming from our programs in Everett,” said Dr. Jacob Murray, electrical engineering program coordinator. “Our students have more one-on-one time with faculty, have direct access to employers in the area and explore interdisciplinary experiences that they would not be able to at a larger campus.”
“The exciting part is that we’re applying so many different things we learned at WSU Everett,” Nelson said. “The scale of work that we’ve finished is baffling; that we’re up and running and ready to go to the Titanic, and that it’s our work going there is incredible.”
Before graduating, Walsh’s goal was to get into engineering management or robotics. His degree, combined with 12 years in the U.S. Air Force, made him an ideal candidate for employers like OceanGate. “As a Sergeant, I had great experience managing teams,” he said. “I use that experience and every bit of what we learned at WSU Everett on this submersible.”
Historic mission to the Titanic
“We want to be able to fit two cameramen, a host, a pilot, a mission specialist or scientist, and someone from OceanGate in the submersible, and we need to be able to provide power for all of their devices,” Walsh said. “Whenever the submersible is detached, it has to power those devices with limited battery power. The more power needed from the system for those devices, the less power you have for important things like life support, movement, or lighting your way underwater.”
Walsh will travel with the submersible to the Bahamas in April for testing before a summer launch to explore the Titanic, which sank in 1912. He and Nelson will both make that trip.
“We’re super excited,” Walsh said. “In April, we’re proving that everything we did works and is ready to go. In June, we’re proving to the world that the system we created is capable of going down to explore the Titanic and helping make and record history.”