UniSA research informs submarine habitability for enhanced performance

Submariners operate under extreme mental load within high stakes settings whilst enduring a lack of sunlight, a lack of sleep, and distinct lack of space. While these military personnel are highly skilled, these dark and cramped conditions are unconducive with peak mental and physical performance. This begs the question – If submarines can’t be bigger, how can the interior feel bigger?

University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers have answered that very question – an outcome that has inspired design considerations for Australia’s current submarine interiors and will inform design assurance activities of the country’s future fleet.

UniSA biomechanics expert Dr Francois Fraysse, who works within UniSA’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity centre (ARENA) has captured data on flexibility, reach capacity, strength, and movement in tight spaces.

“By understanding the size and physical capacity of Royal Australian Navy (RAN) personnel, we get a better understanding of how to design an environment that truly accommodates them,” Dr Fraysse said.

Dr Peter Schumacher, Director of UniSA’s Studio for Complex Human Environment Design (SCHED), has used this data to create digital replicas of Australia’s RAN personnel.

“We’ve leveraged industrial design and computer aided design (CAD) to create digital models of Australia’s submarine interiors, which allows us to get a better sense of the space,” Dr Schumacher explained.

“Then, we’ve placed our human replicas within this digital realm, so we can see how varying body shapes and sizes occupy the space.

“We’ve brought in Virtual Reality technology, allowing us to embody RAN personnel, so we can now experience what it is like to be a medium-sized male within a submarine, or a tall female.

“This allows us to get a true sense of how people move within the submarine, which informs interior design changes and ensures submarine quarters are conducive to human habitability.

“It truly is a battle of millimetres – small space changes can allow someone to get a better night sleep or take a proper shower.”

Sleep expert and Director of UniSA’s Behaviour-Brain-Body (BBB) Research Centre, Professor Siobhan Banks, has focused on how countermeasures within a submarine environment may be used to prevent the negative effects of disturbed sleep, and, thereby, improve cognitive performance and decision-making.

“Everything comes down to sleep – if you cannot get a good sleep, and then you’re working under extreme mental load, your mental processing, your decision-making, and your emotions are far from optimal,” Professor Banks says.

“We have looked at how the interior of a submarine, especially its sleeping quarters, can assist our RAN crew members to perform at their very best.

“Our prototype designs have ensured that lighting is optimised, that beds are not too narrow, and that noise is mitigated as much as possible, along with other measures.”

UniSA’s submarine work has been conducted in collaboration with leading defence primes and the Defence Science and Technology Group.

The groundbreaking insights from UniSA has placed Australia at the forefront of human-centred design research in naval architecture.

UniSA supports defence industry capability via collaborative research projects with government and businesses. Enhance your own defence capabilities by connecting with the UniSA Enterprise Hub.

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