Five Ho Chi Minh City-made miniature submarines will be shipped to Malaysian tourist resorts in two months to be used for recreational coral exploration.
Phan Boi Tran, 60, with a mold he uses to make mini submarines, five of which have been booked by a Malaysian resort for tourists' diving. Photo: Trung Hieu
Phan Boi Tran, a descendent of the patriotic scholar and talented diplomat Phan Boi Chau (1867-1940), simply called his invention “diving equipment.”
The US$3,500 subs are being produced in a factory deep in a meandering alley in Binh Tan District.
“These first-generation subs will be rather slow," he said. "They'll travel at between one to five nautical miles per hour, and will be able to dive to depths of up to three meters for around two hours.
“That much time is enough for tourists to discover a few underwater mysteries,” he said.
With years of experience working for French submarine firm Comex, Tran won local fame in 2010 for successfully piloting his sub, Yet Kieu 1, which he named after a Vietnamese hero who used his swimming and diving skills to sink invading Chinese ships during the 13th century.
This batch of tourism subs were ordered last May by a resort investor for coral diving.
“They are looking for a service that stands out,” he said. “Other concessions, like parasailing or water-skiing, have become too dull.”
The 60-year-old said the dictionary defines a "submarine" as an underwater boat, though he described his invention as much simpler than what the word might evoke in the average person's mind.
In the long term, I believe this kind of entertainment will sell" -- Ho Chi Minh City-based inventor Phan Boi Tran says of his recreational mini-subs
“Mine are basically just upturned cups attached to engines,” he said.
“The best thing is people can drive them without any training.
“It’s easier than riding a bicycle.”
Speeding up or slowing down is controlled by the press of a button, and the handle bars are similar to those found on a bicycle, he said.
The vessels don't have a "brake" but they can accelerate in reverse, he said, adding that divers will accompany the subs when they go into use.
Tran, who was born Phan Boi An, began studying chemistry at Aix-Marseille University in France at age 20, before switching to composite and plastics engineering.
The Yet Kieu 1 mini-sub being tested successfully in 2010. Photo: Dinh Son
He spend a few years working at submarine and helicopter shell manufacturers in France before returning to Vietnam in 2006 to open a company that specialized in designing machines, electric bicycles and toys.
He said that Malaysian government agencies will test the quality of his mini-submarines.
“I have no problems with that,” he added.
He is currently engaged in copyrighting the machine to protect his invention abroad.
The submarine frames are made from cheap composite material and designed for one or two people.
Each sub measures two meters long, 0.8 meters wide and 1.5 meters tall.
Tran said these types of subs have been used in many countries, particularly in Central America.
“I once promoted the boat to travel agencies and resort owners in Vietnam but they were not interested. Maybe they didn't trust me or dare take a risk. But in the long term, I believe this kind of entertainment will sell,” he said.