USS Requin dives into world of high tech

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In its day, the USS Requin set standards in technological advancement. Starting today, Carnegie Science Center visitors will see some 21st-century technology at work deep inside the World War II-era submarine.

Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
USS Requin, which has unveiled state-of -the-art interactive technology to give visitors a feel for submarine life, lies moored in the Ohio River with the Golden Triangle behind it.
Click photo for larger image.

"Living History" is a multimedia installation designed by graduate students from Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, or ETC. Several compartments in the Requin's interior have been outfitted with a series of interactive displays designed to explain more about the sub and its crew.

The Requin -- pronounced ray-quinn -- took its name from the French word for "shark." Commissioned in April 1945, the sub never saw combat in World War II; the war ended days before it was scheduled to set out on its first mission. The Requin later served throughout the Cold War on missions in the Atlantic and the Pacific and the Mediterranean and to the Arctic Circle.

It underwent several technological conversions and was the Navy's first radar picket submarine. These were used to increase radar range and prevent forces from surprise attacks.

It was decommissioned in 1968, then took on a new mission in 1990, when it came to Pittsburgh as one of the science center's attractions.

The new elements create an immersive -- all puns intended -- experience. The series of kiosks with touch screens are designed to appeal to everyone from World War II veterans to toddlers, and everybody in between. Very young children can explore the kids' menu, which features submarine sound effects. For history and technology buffs, there is more detailed information on how things work, history and specifications.

It's also a vessel for oral histories about submarine life.

"Sailors are great storytellers," said Patty Rogers, Carnegie Science Center coordinator of historic exhibits.

New generations will be able to hear first-person accounts from Requin crew members. Some came from recordings made at radio station KQV-AM during the 2004 Requin crew reunion. Others were gathered by Carnegie Mellon students who traveled to interview the vets. They talk about accidents and mishaps, their daily routine, camaraderie and ultimately their attachment to the Requin.

Taken together, their stories explain, as one crew member puts it, "how you learn to love a piece of iron."

The tour starts in the torpedo room. The interactive screen shows how a torpedo is fired, complete with sound effects and vibrations. Surround-sound speakers and sub-woofers under the floor create the sounds and feel of being on board during a torpedo firing.

The control room kiosk illustrates how a submarine dives and surfaces, and how a periscope works. In the forward engine room, visitors see how engines work, and hear the sounds of the diesel engine and crew accounts about explosions and floods. In the stern room, there's original video footage of Requin members and other submariners talking about life underwater.

The project cost less than $20,000, a fraction of what a commercial exhibit design company would have charged, said ETC executive producer and co-founder Don Marinelli.

The ETC is an interdisciplinary master's program that combines the resources of Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts and School of Computer Science. Its mission is to develop new technologies for entertainment and educational applications. Retrofitting the Requin was an opportunity too great to miss, Mr. Marinelli said.

The team of Carnegie Mellon students benefited, too. Installing equipment in such a unique environment gave them plenty of problem-solving experience.

"This is a real-world laboratory," Mr. Marinelli said.

The new multimedia displays are the second phase of an overall revamping of the Requin. Last year, it was repainted. New artifacts were added, like a vintage movie projector, which was bought on eBay and is identical to the original one on board. Other period items include posters, pinup girl photos and personal effects, like toothpaste and hair tonic.

"It's a lot of fun scavenging for artifacts and trying to re-create the feel," said Ms. Rogers. "You feel like you're getting a glimpse into a particular slice of time."

The Requin is open daily for self-guided tours and exploration from March to November, and on weekends during the winter.


Adrian McCoy can be reached at amccoy@post-gazette.com .


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