Into The Deep

According to NOAA, the two-person submersible Jason Epp boarded can travel up to 20 km per hour and can stay underwater for 10 hours with an additional 96 hours of reserve oxygen supply.

Into The Deep

Jason Epp

The two-person submersible that alum Jason Epp boarded last summer to survey shipwrecks can travel up to 20 km per hour and can stay underwater for 10 hours.

Last summer, Jason Epp (BEng’15, Electrical) descended 700 feet into the Atlantic Ocean to document a World War II battlefield that had never been seen by the human eye.

An embedded systems developer at 2G Robotics in Waterloo, Ontario, the Lakehead alumnus was part of a team of scientists and explorers assembled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Together, they embarked on a 15-day expedition surveying WWII shipwrecks lost in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Watch the expedition highlights (2:02 runtime)

“It was the first time I’d physically gone underwater in a submersible,” Jason says.  “Generally our underwater laser scanner systems integrate with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and we’re in a command centre running our instruments from the surface – you aren’t actually sitting in a submarine exploring the ocean floor.”

The Battle of the Atlantic was a protracted naval campaign that changed the course of the war. The Allies blockaded Germany and the Germans retaliated by blockading Europe. One skirmish in the six-year battle took place in July 1942 when a convoy of Allied merchant ships bringing supplies to England was targeted by a German submarine off the coast of North Carolina. It torpedoed the freighter SS Bluefields before being destroyed by a depth charge.

“Seeing the battlefield was surreal,” Jason says. “Because of the Gulf Stream, we had to descend in the submersible several hundred metres from the site. As we made our way closer to the wreck, we started seeing more and more fish, and then all of a sudden the U-576 submarine came into view. It was covered in barnacles and stood five metres off the bottom and you could see the whole hull from bow to stern.” Although weather challenges cut the mission short, it was an exhilarating experience for the amateur scuba diver.

Documenting the historic and ecological significance of the wrecks is just one highlight in Jason’s career. His job with 2G Robotics has taken him around the world, operating equipment on projects in Finland, the Netherlands, the United States, Norway, and even the Baltic Sea.

Originally from Ayr, Ontario, Jason enrolled in Lakehead’s electrical engineering program in September 2013. He’d already earned a diploma in electronics engineering technology from Conestoga College and was employed as an engineering technician at BlackBerry.

“I’d heard that Lakehead’s engineering faculty offered a college transfer option as part of their degree program,” Jason says. “Much of the department I was working in at Blackberry was disappearing, so it seemed like the right time to challenge myself further.”

The control systems engineering classes taught by Professor Abdelhamid Tayebi piqued his interest in robotics and within months of graduating with first class standing, Jason was hired by 2G Robotics. “No two days are ever the same,” he says. “The work never gets stale.” 

For more details on the expedition click here.