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A Robotics Company Spent More Than $1.2M To Help Swimmers “Fly” Underwater

(Source: forbes.com)

The inspiration for the SeaFlyer scooter came from what some may consider an odd place for an underwater device: an airplane.

“I looked out of the airplane window, seeing the clouds were floating backwards when the airplane moves. Suddenly, it came to my mind that since we can fly in the air with airplanes, why don’t we find a way to ‘fly’ in water?”

That epiphany happened to Yijun Chen, 29, who became a cofounder of BoyaGongdao Robot Technology Company, doing business as RoboSea. RoboSea’s latest offering is the SeaFlyer, a scuba diver-inspired scooter that pulls swimmers through the water. It can dive to depths of 145 feet, well below the recommended maximum depth for the average open water scuba diver, and is held in front of the user with two hands. Its current crowdfunding price is $369, a price much lower than most scooters on the market that often cost $1,000 or more. The few underwater scooters available under $1,000 tend to be heavy and bulky, making them difficult to carry on vacations. Chen and her team wanted to make an alternative to those offerings, so their scooter weighs eight pounds and is about 20 inches long by six inches high.

Chen, along with cofounders, Xiong Mingle, 27, and Chen Longdong, 27, started RoboSea in 2015 in Beijing, China. The company has created a handful of robotics offerings, like an underwater fish-shaped camera drone that avoids scaring away actual fish, and a six-foot robotic shark that can track objects for professional and scientific research applications. The SeaFlyer is their first scooter and their second consumer-focused product.

Before developing the SeaFlyer, the RoboSea team studied other underwater crafts beyond dive scooters, like submersibles, bubble-shaped vehicles, and larger, professional propelling devices. They also spoke with users of those devices ranging from divers to lifeguards and researchers to figure out what features they felt were lacking in the current market offerings. Their in-house engineers then began the design and prototyping phase, which Chen categorizes into three categories: functionality, performance, and reliability. That included testing of different materials and shapes to ensure the SeaFlyer was perfectly buoyant, achieved when approximately one inch of the SeaFlyer was above the surface when let go. Chen says that while that process may not seem especially complicated it proved to be a challenge for the engineers, who solved the problem by including internal buoyancy compartments containing a mix of floating materials within the SeaFlyer frame.

In-water maneuverability wasn’t the only challenge Chen’s team faced. Using the SeaFlyer in deep water requires a powerful battery, which generates heat — and unfortunately, that heat can age and strain the device’s materials. So through a series of experiments and tests over several months, they created a new concept for the battery housing. The SeaFlyer now has a channel for water to flow across and cool the outside of the battery, which is divided into several different sections to ensure the electrodes within it are well protected from water. Between testing, materials, prototyping, research, permitting and more, RoboSea spent more than $1.2 million on research and development over a year-long period. The SeaFlyer was introduced to Indiegogo for crowdfunding in early October, where it reached its $30,000 funding goal in just over three days. 

Chen credits some of that success to their video, made in partnership with a crowdfunding marketing and promotional agency. But she believes the SeaFlyer’s popularity can be explained primarily by its design features, which include a high-contrast OLED display screen to show statistics like depth and water temperature, universal controls, and a sleek, sports car-inspired look. “We developed a simple and beautiful structure in order to make underwater sports easier and let everyone feel an extraordinary experience,” she says. “We want the SeaFlyer to impact customers like a fancy gadget in a James Bond movie.”

More Info: forbes.com

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