Recently, reports have come to surface of Chinese scientists developing an underwater vessel that could travel from “Shanghai to San Francisco in 100 minutes” according to the South China Morning Post. The ambitious travel time is an obvious pipe dream, however the technology that would allow such fast underwater speeds has been in development since the 1980s.

Scientists at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China believe they have developed a way in which to greatly reduce the friction and drag created by water. The innovative team behind the project has discovered a liquid membrane that can cover the vessel and then harbour a bubble of air that is effectively frictionless. This technology is known as supercavitation and was first discovered during the cold war.

Supercavitation has the potential to see objects moving at the speed of sound underwater. By lubricating the submarine in the special liquid it would allow for it to reach speeds high enough to establish this supercavitation.

As with most things that sound too good to be true, it very well may be, with critics pointing out that steering such a vessel is “near impossible” and if any part of the ship breaches the protective bubble it will snap off, regardless of the material.

In 2002, the US Navy wrote: “Some technologies innovations have so significant an impact on our way of doing business that they are often described as ‘disruptive technologies,’ with the potential to change the future,” in a report namimg supercavitation techniques as one of these technologies.

Pushing aside the misuses of such technologies by militaries, imagine the impact this sci-fi-esque stuff could have on our everyday lives! Whether reducing traveling times, costs or comfort it will be interesting to see if a super sonic submarine will become a reality.


Image: South China Morning Post