September 10, 2009 / 3:58 AM / 10 years ago

Amateur Chinese inventor seeks fame with scrap submarine

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Amateur inventor Tao Xiangli scoured second-hand markets for two years in search of spare parts for more than just a broken appliance. He’s built a home-made submarine he hopes will give him his big break.

Amateur inventor Tao Xiangli operates his homemade submarine in a lake on the outskirts of Beijing September 3, 2009. Tao, 34, made a fully functional submarine, which has a periscope, depth control tanks, electric motors, manometer, and two propellers, from old oil barrels and tools which he bought at a second-hand market. He took 2 years to invent and test the submarine which costs 30,000 yuan ($4,385). REUTERS/Christina Hu

The 34 year-old constructed his vessel after failing to find fame or fortune with creations such as the massaging hair-washer and an automated shoe-polisher.

Tao’s submarine weighs 800 kgs (1,764 lb) and is 6.5 meters (21 feet) long, with a cramped interior that fits one person and features pressure gauges, monitoring cameras and, of course, an oxygen supply.

He has also installed headlights and is working on his own take on a periscope for the vessel, which he says can dive to depths of up to 10-metres.

The main body of the submarine is made out of simple metal barrels, one of his many ingenious economies that allowed him to keep his total budget to just 30,000 yuan ($4,400).

“A lot of the parts used in the submarine were purchased at the second-hand market. Parts that you could not find anywhere else are available at this market. It is also cheaper,” he said.

But it hasn’t been easy.

The lack of a government department that grants submarine licenses for individuals has prevented Tao from being able to legally use his invention.

The shortage of deep water in dry, inland Beijing, doesn’t help, either. But moving the heavy, unlicensed submarine is not easy so Tao chose a local reservoir for his test-dives.

The sight of a submarine in the green water takes most bystanders by surprise, and curious crowds gather around each time the young inventor takes it for an outing.

“I think it’s very interesting. I didn’t expect to see a submarine in the middle of the reservoir,” said a man who gave his name as Mr. Qi.

Tao hopes the challenge of building something beyond the reach of most individuals will attract funding from investors and wider public recognition of his efforts.

Born into a poor rural family in the eastern Anhui province, Tao had to drop out of primary school after less than five years when his family could not afford his education.

After relocating to the capital, he tried his hand at running a shop selling construction materials, but it made him unhappy.

He now works the night-shift at a karaoke bar, which frees his days for research and new inventions. All his earnings go to his creations and he hopes the submarine will allow him to dedicate more of his time to his hobby.

“At least I have tried. You only know what results you get after you make things happen. If I don’t pursue my dreams, nobody will know who I am. People won’t be able to find me,” he said.

Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison, editing by Miral Fahmy

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