The Titan Submersible implosion is among the worst technical glitches of 2023

Down Angle Symbol A symbol in the form of an angle pointing downwards. The submersible titan. OceanGate

  • The submersible Titan implosion was one of the worst technology failures of 2023.
  • As the reporting progressed, it became clear that much of the disaster could have been prevented.
  • Hopefully, innovation in 2024 can avoid the kind of hubris that brought down the submarine mastermind.

In the summer of 2023, our minds wandered to the terrible depths of the Atlantic as we waited four long days to find out what had happened to the Titan submersible and its five passengers en route to the Titanic wreck.

Before marine researchers pieced together the details of the ill-fated submersible’s fate, experts depicted nightmare scenarios in which passengers slowly ran out of oxygen or, as it turned out, a fortunately rapid implosion occurred due to a rupture in the vessel’s pressure hull.

During that time and in the days that followed, a picture began to form of its leader, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who was also one of the passengers on the submersible and was the kind of innovator who moves quickly and breaks things and dreamed that the strategy could even work in the deep sea.

In a letter dozens of industry leaders and experts sent directly to Rush in 2018, they expressed concern about the submersible’s lack of formal safety certification. The letter warned that the consequences could be “catastrophic,” a word that was eventually used by the U.S. Coast Guard to describe the submersible’s implosion.

In interviews, Rush complained about the safety regulations surrounding the submersible motor industry, once calling them “obscenely safe” and stifling innovation.

“At some point, security is a waste,” he told CBS journalist David Pogue in 2022.

OceanGate chose to build the submersible’s hull from a combination of carbon fiber and titanium instead of the standard titanium. In 2017, Rush told TechCrunch that “everyone said you couldn’t build with carbon fiber” but that using a more buoyant material significantly reduced the cost.

Emails from Rush, viewed by Business Insider, painted a picture of a CEO determined to push the limits of the Titan submersible, even as experts swore the ship wasn’t ready for deep-sea exploration.

Previous passengers reported disturbing experiences inside the Titan. Diving expert Karl Stanley raised concerns about a loud cracking sound emanating from the ship’s hull after he braved a 12,000-foot plunge into the Titan’s interior in 2019. Mike Reiss, a producer on “The Simpsons,” also said he did four dives with the company and that each time the submersible lost communication with the supply ship.

It also emerged that, beyond the excitement of visiting the Titanic, Rush had deeper ambitions of mining the seabed for oil and gas. Exploring the Titanic was just a way to get people to invest, he told Fast Company in 2017.

Overall, the lack of safety certifications, ignored warnings from friends and colleagues, and a general lack of common sense in the pursuit of even more riches resulted in the sub’s implosion becoming one of the worst technology failures of the year.

The MIT Technology Review put it this way:

Everyone had warned Stockton Rush, the submarine’s inventor, that it was not safe. But he believed innovation meant throwing out the rules and taking risks. He pushed aside good technology in favor of wishful thinking. He and four others died. For us, it shows how the spirit of innovation can get ahead of reality, sometimes with unpleasant consequences.

The report highlighted other tech failures throughout the year: cruise robotaxis were banned from San Francisco streets just two months after the company received approval to expand its fleet operations; the short-lived dreams of a room-temperature superconductor that could change the world; and the $700 AI pin that Business Insider’s Katie Notopoulos said is unlikely to replace our phones.

None of them have quite left behind the legacy of Rush, with its tragic ending and ominous breadcrumbs that posed a dire warning to innovators in better years.

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