back to article Brit D-cell torpedo in icepack-bottom probe

A British robot submarine has penetrated under the Western Antarctic ice shelves to a distance of 60km, plunging to depths greater than 1000m. The "Autosub", built by boffins in Southampton, was powered by tens of thousands of ordinary D-cell batteries during its forays beneath the ice. Autosub comes from the UK's National …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Simple ...

    Order in bulk and go via a cashback site like Quidco.

  2. Adrian

    D cell batteries

    in short supply shock horror - I suppose lithium rechargeables had been considered ?

  3. Michael

    Could be less than a tonne

    if they used rechargables.

  4. Brian Miller

    D-cells not that expensive

    At $0.85 apiece retail, that's only $4,250 per dive. I thought that El Reg would have told us why they used D-cells, instead of leaving us guessing!

  5. David Hayes

    30,000 D-Cell Batteries @ 4 Tonnes

    That's assuming that they're proper D-Cell Batteries, and not just AA batteries in a D shell casing like companies like En*cough*gizer have been guilty of. Otherwise, there's a lot of air trapped in the casing providing too much bouyancy, and not enough juice for the size casing it should be providing.

  6. GF

    Cost of Recycling...

    ...must be high since the 4 tons of batteries have to be returned and recycled.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I missing something

    A while ago I read an article that claimed global warming could lead to a rise of sea levels of 6m over the next century. I thought it was shite at the time, but if we are looking at a quarter of a milimeter a year wouldn't a rise of 6m take 24,000 years? Actually it would take longer at that rate because the oceans surface would get larger as the level rose.

    There's at least one expert bullshitting us here.

  8. Lee Dowling Silver badge


    Okay, I know that there are probably a thousand factors here, but why "ordinary alkaline"?

    Yes, you can mass-produce them and get them cheaply (although the local One-Stop might not be sufficient for 5000 of the buggers), but why not a more space-efficient power source? Surely just one humungous lead-acid or other technology battery could provide a lot more power, be rechargeable and survive the temperatures/pressures? If not, then it might even have been worth looking at making sure the battery didn't *need* to survive those temperatures/pressures etc. by providing a small heater or enclosure. I'd like to know what the justification is for alkaline technology packed into a space-inefficient, difficult to combine cylindrical shape that doesn't provide much oomph anyway.

    It seems that the problem must have already been solved elsewhere - space flight, or marine batteries, or some other well-known venue. It just seems incredibly odd to be putting a load of Energiser's into a sub that you want to run out more than once.

  9. General A. Annoying
    Paris Hilton

    Bit of an own goal there...

    I take it the 'boffins' haven't heard of rechargeable batteries then.

    No, don't start with the "you'd need more of them than alkelines so the sub would be heavier...yadda, yadda, yadda." This should have been figured out early on in the design.

    Or was it sponsored by "Duracell"?

    Paris, as I imagine she likes her submersible devices to be rechargeable!!

  10. Filippo Silver badge

    re: Am I missing something

    From the article, it sounds like the 1/4mm rise is from just that one glacier. There are many glaciers.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Am I missing something

    If I understand the relevant paragraph correctly then I take it to mean that this ice-shelf melting is enough on its own to raise levels by 0.25mm a year. I assume there is other melting activity elsewhere...

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Huge Crack

    That sub has taken some battering. Did anyone else notice the huge crack on the nose? From about 1:50 in video the nose comes into close view. And on the port side of that nose there seems to be a hole, and then a large crack running away from it. Shows it must be a tough cookie if it survived that.

  13. Andus McCoatover

    Bin Police

    Hope they're recycling. Don't want a visit from the viz's Bottom (probe) Inspectors And I don't mean

    Oh, maybe I do. Does El Reg reside anywhere Soho's Winnit (winnett) Street?

    ('Less they send Paris..OK, ok)

  14. ben

    Intelligent Design?

    Regarding the D Cell vs. Rechargeable issue, how about reading the comments thread from the El. Reg. Article dated 8th Jan this year - The cells will be at or near 0 C for their mission duration, so conventional D Cells work better (apparently).

    One also does have to credit the designers of the device with some intelligence - I think they might just have thought about using rechargeable cells and then discounted them for valid reasons.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @Dodgy battery packs

    The company I worked for worked with Southhampton and Autosub- google ASV Geosub for info. The battery packs were definately not the AAs-in-a-D-casing.

    And for someone who asked last time how it'd come to the surface if it ran out of power, there's a load of small stones ("chuckies") in a bucket. Power fails, a hatch opens, chuckies fall out, autosub becomes positively bouyant and floats to the surface. Or straight into some ice.

    Glad to see it got back safely from this mission- it's an awesome bit of tech!

  16. Chris Forzetting

    Not very *green* for a global-warming kool-aid program

    You would think that an expedition launched under the auspices of the global-warming crusade would at least be environmentally conscious enough to use rechargeable batteries...

    Ha ha ha...

  17. Anonymous Coward

    @Huge Crack

    looks like a soft cover fairing not a pressure case...

    seems to be four sections joined where yellow black tape is..

    yes its hit something.. maybe the recovery ship?

  18. Martin Silver badge

    The Hamster cover-up continues

    Reporter: So what powers this then?

    Scientist: (musn't mention the secret mutant hamsters), err batteries

    Reporter: What ordinary D cells ?

    Scientist: Yep

    Reporter: Must be a lot of them

    Scientist: bloody thousands!

    Now if only the problems with the Large Hamster Collider can be solved we will have an unlimited source of energy.

    Why did you think the government was stalling on building new power stations?

    They are just waiting for the baby hamster to hatch in the spring.

  19. John Routledge

    It's the cold!

    Rechargeables don't work at subzero temperatures. It still sounds like a hell of a waste though.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Lee Dowling "WHY?"

    Lithium batteries don't work as well under pressure and when very cold (though people like Tritech are working on useful submersible ones). Plus they're bloody expensive. Lead Acids give off Hydrogen- not something you want in a sealed container at depth. An NiCds are just plain crap.

    The torpedo shape was chosen as it's the most hydrodynamically efficient shape when the AUV is moving forwards. Internally it's not cylindrical at all- there are frames and interconnecting strips and such.

    And the Autosub is rated to like 6000m of depth. Problems with pressure can't be solved by a "small enclosure". And a heater for sorting temperature problems out isn't gonig to work either- you'd vastly reduce your battery life and probably not be able to get them up to anywhere near the temperature range where they work most efficiently.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    It Just turned up on eBay

    HiTec Toy submarine

    requires large 1000 D Cell Batteries.

    Instructions and packaging lost.

    Unwanted X-mas present.

    Only selling because we are moving house.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Re: Huge crack

    Paris - huge crack? Someone had to.

  23. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Re The Hamster cover-up continues


    Are you "involved" in D Notice type, Binary Research in ITerative Energy Cells....with ITs Astute Fearless Flawless Technologies/Stealth Knowledge Transfers?

    And the LHC doesn't have problems surely, just nobbles? Crikey, that last sentence was very Edmund BlackAdderish.

    Now that would be a Real Hoot and a Wheeze..... The Black Adder Team doing Secret Government AIResearch and Ear Bashing the Opposition with PrePositions and Advanced Steganographic Soliloquy ...... a Sort of V for Vendetta on Speed for AIMagical Mystery Turing Trips and MetaDataMined Games....... and when also Licensed to Thrill, what would be able to stop them Establishing NeuReal Rules and Regulations for BroadBandCasting EMPulsating Spectrum.

    Ps Love the Yellow Submarine.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Good idea, use them as ballast to dive, dump them to come up?

  25. John Smith Gold badge


    Mutant hamsters.

    Another Reg exclusive.

  26. John

    damage on the nose

    At the very tail end of the video you hear the radio conversation and the reason the had spun it nose first was to examine the damage on the nose. then they spun it 'round and boarded it aft first. :)



  27. Schultz

    chemical recharging

    It's entirely possible that "chemical recharging" (i.e. recycling of the chemicals) is more energy efficient than using rechargables. Surely would be cheaper in the short term.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Is it just me or....

    "A British robot submarine has penetrated under the Western Antarctic ice shelves to a distance of 60km, plunging to depths greater than 1000m."

    60Km is 60,000m.

    1000m is how deep it went so what is 60 Km the measurement of?

    Paris, becaus she knows all about deep penetration.

  29. Volker Hett

    have a digital camera?

    try it in cold weather, then tell me what you think about rechargeable batteries!

    Canon 5D at -5°C some 100 pictures on one LiIon which usually lasts for over 500!

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Batteries not included

    Some Xmas toy THAT would turn out to be!

    Sorry, Tommy, we'll have to wait until Tescos opens on Monday.

  31. wayne

    60 klicks distance traveled under the ice shelf

    60km horizontal measurement.

  32. Martin Silver badge

    Hamsters are only the beginning....

    "The LHC collides particles at 99.9999991% of the speed of light."

    Note that it is hesitant on the type of particles - but if we assume they are pairs of little fury particles called "bubble and squeak" then the enegy of a colliding pair of hamsters at this speed would generate enough energy to heat 1.2 olympic swimming pools of Bovril (official units)

    This is only a prototype of the the Relatavistic Heavy Ferret Collider being built in a secret Yorkshire location.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @Is it just me or....

    60Km away from the boat / start of the ice sheet.

    Far. As in: not down, not up, maybe sideways but probably forward.

    Was it Antartica? Then possibly south.

    If it was the other one, then perhaps north.

    Paris, as she knows what direction is going down.

  34. Lindsay Silver badge

    RE: @Lee Dowling "WHY?"

    And of NiMH?

  35. Dalen

    Yellow submarine

    Apparently, it was lucky enough not to run into the Blue Meanie.

    Mine's the one in all the funky colors.

  36. Richard Henderson

    you can recharge alakaline batteries

    Just FYI. Duracell have been conning everyone for years about this. You can recharge alkaline batteries. Just don't let them overheat while doing it. Being in the antarctic might help here :).

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Green my ar**!

    Maplin are now doing what they call Hybrid rechargeables. That are supposed to be OK with operating at low temperatures up to -10C Probably not up to this application though.

    Seem to be OK in an outdoor thingy I have. Even during our recent cold spell but possibly the deep ocean under an ice shelf is a wee bit colder than my suburban southern English garden.

    More expensive than NiCads too.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    My girlfriend goes through that many batteries a week.

    She says it helps her talk to god, by herself in the bedroom.

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