The Phantom Menace may have spawned one of Star Wars’ most detested characters, but the film’s on-screen trip to Otoh Gunga gave us a look at a piece of tech pined after by fans: the A99 aquata breather. The mini mouthpiece allowed Obi-wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn to travel to Gungan city, breathing underwater like a pair of fish.
Now, an Indigogo campaign has raised nearly $1 million for the development of “Triton,” a similar set of “electronic gills” that would obliterate the need for bulky SCUBA gear. It sounds cool, but there’s a problem – and it’s a big one: they’re bunk. I repeat: theesa no worksa. Do not pass go, do not pay $299.
The device relies on science fiction tech specs
Scientists have been criticizing the Triton campaign since it’s inception in 2014, our friend Dr. Al Dove at Deep Sea News being one of the first. Triton’s creators claim the device filters water through tiny holes in the “gills” that extract oxygen, but Dove calculated that the tech would have to pull as much water as a 1/4 horsepower sump pump to extract enough oxygen for a diver to breathe. Without any such pump in the portable device, water would have to be passed through the it by the user swimming. Some reports have likened this to the way some sharks (the “ram ventilators”) move oxygenated water flowing over their gills by continuously moving forward. But you are not a shark. A human cannot swim fast enough to ram-ventilate, even with a Triton held firmly in their chatterbox.
“You’d certainly have to swim so fast to supply the needs of 15 breaths per minute [the average resting breath rate of a human diver] that you wouldn’t be breathing 15 bpm anymore,” writes Dove. In other words, you physically couldn’t swim fast enough to supply your body with enough oxygen to survive.
In an interview with Tech Insider, deep sea ecologist Dr. Andrew David Thaler raised another concern: even if Triton’s team solved the oxygen extraction problem, it would take a lot of energy to compress and store all of that gas. The Triton campaign claims to have cracked that nut with a “very powerful modified micro compressor,” that’s coupled with a “modified lithium-ion battery” (seen below in blue and purple). Thaler explains that a battery system that’s both robust enough for the task and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand would blow anything we’ve seen out of the water (no pun intended).
“[It] would have to be orders of magnitude more efficient than anything on the market,” he said. “At which point you have to wonder why you’d wrap that up in a gimmicky set of gills rather than selling the battery technology. It’d be like cracking cold fusion, but only using it to power a novelty clown lamp.”
Who needs an engineer to engineer things?
To make red flags, well, redder, there isn’t a single noted engineer on the team, which includes product designer Jeabyun Yeon, entrepreneur Saeed Khademi, and “marketing genius” John Khademi. The wonder device is supposedly going to ship out to backers in December of 2016, but as of the date of this article, the campaign states the Triton team are still searching for a “technician in marine technology.”
That demo video, though
But, there’s a demo! Time for a game, folks. Try to hold your breath for each portion of this 1:57 demo video. (Hint: you’ll make it, the longest uncut segment is only 36 seconds long).
If the team really had revolutionized everything we know about dive kits, why not take Triton to a shallow seabed? And why not give us 30 minutes of continuous, underwater badassery? The Guinness world record for breath hold is a staggering 22 minutes, and according to the Triton team, “a fully-charged battery enables to 45 minutes of underwater pleasure” at a max depth of 15 feet.
The final nail in the campaign’s coffin is the extreme aversion to criticism shown by the team thus far. Getting Triton to respond to claims that their tech is a sham is about as easy as playing “Marco Polo” with a dead whale. When Dove’s article first surfaced, backers took to the campaign page to ask for comment. Rather than addressing the issue, the team side-skirted questions citing “patent pending” as a reason for their silence. But it gets worse: Thaler recently took to Facebook to ask Triton to respond to more recent critiques. Not only did they ignore his comments, but also deleted them and banned Southern Fried Science (Thaler’s well-respected marine science blog network) from accessing their page. In the days since, several other comments have been deleted from the Triton Facebook page. At the time of publication, Triton has yet to respond to any requests for comment from Nerdist.
“I was willing to write Triton off as a team of hopeful idealists and wish them well on their quixotic quest,” Thaler wrote in response. “I’m certainly not one to audit what other people choose to support through crowdfunding. It’s always a gamble, and that’s fine. But now, having dug far more deeply into their proposal than I ever wanted to, I’m no longer willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Triton Gills is almost certainly a scam. If they somehow magically do have a working prototype and actually fulfill their crowdfunding promise within a few months of their promised ship date, I’ll eat my regulator.”
IMAGES: Triton, Indigogo