Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Search NOVA Teachers

Back to Teachers Home

Underwater Dream Machine

Program Overview


Image of submarine NOVA follows the journey of Peter Robbins, a man who staked everything he owned to build his own submarine with the world's largest acrylic dome.

The program:

  • reviews the sub's design, which combines a conventional steel aft section with a forward transparent acrylic plastic hull.

  • explains that the sub is powered by a long-range diesel engine.

  • notes that the submarine's budget is $1.5 million, which means that many of its parts will need to be off-the-shelf components from ordinary hardware stores and auto suppliers.

  • presents Robbins' idea to turn the vehicle (named Alicia after his daughter) into a profit-making enterprise by taking tourists and researchers to shipwrecks lying off England's south coast.

  • chronicles the construction of the submarine's components, including its batteries, ballast, dive control mechanisms, acrylic sphere, air filtering system, and fail-safe mechanism.

  • points out the setbacks involved in building the sub's never-before-made acrylic sphere.

  • explains Robbins' fascination with German U-boats and reveals his efforts to track down a surviving member from a World War II U-boat involved in the war's last major U-boat action.

  • recounts the survivor's account of that English Channel battle and his escape from the U-boat.

  • shows Robbins' submarine undergoing pressure testing at Britain's largest pressure chamber and presents its first test dives.

  • recounts Robbins' voyage with the U-boat survivor to the wreck of the supply ship torpedoed by his U-boat.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Underwater Dream Machine

Support provided by