OceanGate and the University of Washington Public-Private Collaboration

A public-private collaboration of business, research, and higher education

Over the last two years, OceanGate, Inc. has worked closely with the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab to collaborate on the design, development and launch of Cyclops 1, OceanGate’s new 5-man submersible. This unique partnership represents an innovative collaboration between private business and a large public university and demonstrates how the two entities worked together to develop a highly capable, technically advanced vehicle using commercially available off the shelf components and equipment.


The Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington (APL-UW) was founded in 1943 by the U.S. Navy during World War II as a research program tasked with developing the technologies needed to defeat a technically sophisticated and well-prepared enemy. The Laboratory began developing unmanned underwater research vehicles in the late ‘50s. Development of a special submarine sonar led to advances in acoustic imaging which resulted in an APL-UW spin-off company, BlueView Technology, which was recently acquired by Teledyne Industries. Today, UW scientists and engineers pursue leadership roles in acoustic and remote sensing, ocean physics and engineering, medical and industrial ultrasound, polar science and logistics, environmental and information systems, and electronic and photonic systems.


Research programs aimed at understanding ocean circulation, mixing, and variability have resulted in a wide variety of unique ship and aircraft-launched instruments to measure ocean currents, temperature, salinity, turbulence, diffusion rates, and the effects of ocean variability on acoustic signals. The US Navy has used the Laboratory’s knowledge of the ocean environment, coupled with its understanding of Navy operational requirements, to develop fleet tactics, strategies, and systems.

Background on APL-UW and OceanGate, Inc.

Several years ago, APL-UW began working with OceanGate using their submersibles to explore ways that imaging sonar could be used for tracking submarines. It was a unique opportunity to have, in one region, both a public research organization with sonar expertise, and a private company that could efficiently deploy and operate a commercial submarine. Historically, APL might work with a US Navy subsea system, but the cost and general availability of that hardware made organizing and affording those systems nearly impossible. The flexibility and availability provided by OceanGate has been an important element in fostering and maintaining a strong partnership. Development of autonomy for underwater vehicles has created other areas of collaboration as well. OceanGate is providing APL with a test platform for the development of sensors and algorithms for underwater “sense and avoid” systems. The cost of integrating sensors into a manned vehicle is much faster and less expensive given the ability for an engineer to participate in a submarine dive and test or make changes on-the-fly to the algorithm while witnessing what’s really going outside, in real-time.

The “Collaboratory”

OceanGate is part of the APL “Collaboratory”. This unique office and research facility is located adjacent to the UW campus. It fosters research and engineering collaboration between academia and private industry. By bringing together a critical mass of expertise and resources, the Collaboratory supports a synergistic ecosystem for marine technology research and development. APL-UW scientists and engineers are partnering with many companies to advance R&D programs and spur economic growth in Washington State and across the nation.

Cyclops 1: 5-person Manned Submersible.

For OceanGate, the APL-UW provided mission critical design, development and engineering resources and acts and the company’s dedicated outsourced engineering division. Given the University’s long and well established history working in ocean sciences, advanced underwater research and proven engineering capabilities, the company recognized the tremendous knowledge base and available opportunity to access top talent by working with the UW. Together, OceanGate operations personnel and senior management sat side-by-side with engineers and researchers at the APL to create a comprehensive design/build and test plan that took a full 15 months to complete. The end result was the successful launch, sea trial and testing that affirmed the operational functionality and capabilities of Cyclops 1.