They promised us flying cars, but it turns out that flying boats were easier to build.
SeaBubbles, a new “flying” boat that uses electrical power instead of gasoline, arrives in Miami this weekend to show off one of its five prototype boats, or six, if you have an early white windowless boat, they have. nicknamed with love. “This innovative boat design combines technology from the nautical industries, aviation and smart software to raise the boat’s hull out of the water using sheets, allowing it to consume less energy by allowing it to travel in rougher water with reduced drag. While it also keeps the passenger cabin relatively comfortable.
When it rises, the boat is “flying” over the water, so to speak.
Founded just three years ago in Paris, the idea of SeaBubbles. It was devised by Alain Thébault, a sailor who previously designed and piloted the Hydroptère, an experimental hydrofoil trimaran, using a similar system that lifts the boat to reduce drag. That ship broke the world sailing speed record twice, at 50.17 knots. Meanwhile, SeaBubbles co-founder Anders Bringdal is a four-time world windsurfing champion, who also set a world windsurfing record, at 51.45 knots.
Together, the two have envisioned SeaBubbles as a way for cities to reduce traffic congestion and help the environment by taking advantage of the area’s waterways to move people around in fast water taxis.
“Today’s cities have one thing in common: pollution and congestion,” Bringdal explains. “Every city has waterways, ones that are quite unused. Think of having a giant highway that goes directly to the center of the city, and nobody uses it… why? Bringdal continues.
“You could do this with a normal boat,” he admits. “But with a normal boat with a normal combustion engine, the price of fuel you are paying is between $ 70 and $ 130 per hour. With us, it is $ 2,” he says.
The cost savings come from an all-electric design, which means that the boat is charged at a power station, preferably one that is solar charged, of course, rather than high-drain gas.
The company experimented with all sorts of designs and models before settling on its first SeaBubbles water taxi: a smaller version, 4.5 meters, with capacity for four people in addition to the pilot. However, the technology itself is scalable to larger ships or even ferries.
According to SeaBubbles US partner Daniel Berrebi, whose company Baja Ferries has made a “small” investment in SeaBubbles, even larger ships like his could eventually benefit from the technology.
Beyond his obvious business interest on that front, Berrebi is also working with SeaBubbles to help the company make its first sales in the U.S. He says he sold four boats to individuals in the area, yes it is sold as in “checks in hand and signed on the dotted line”. These buyers don’t want to be named, but they can include well-known names in music. and sports. (Of course, one has to wonder how much anonymity you will actually have when working on Miami’s waterways in one of the few flying boats in existence today.)
SeaBubbles has been able to get to market with its technology so early because it’s not building everything in-house.
The boat motors are from Torqeedo, for example, while the flight-by-wire software to control the boat comes from the flight control systems and foiling, engineer Ricardo Bencatel’s company, 4DC Tech. His software solution also it powered the boats of the America’s Cup teams, such as Artemis Racing and Oracle. But the version that runs on SeaBubbles has custom components to control the unique characteristics of the boat.
“The [SeaBubbles] The ship has three main sensors: it has two altitude sensors to measure the height of the water, then it has a gyroscope, like the one found in cell phones, ”explains Bencatel.
“The computer combines those measurements from the sensors, then it knows the boat’s angles, height and speed,” he says. The software then uses this information to control the boat’s fins to make adjustments. “For example, the elevator, if you want to go higher,” says Bencatel. “Or if it’s rolling to one side, use the flippers to turn it to the other side. Or if it’s launching (lean down or up) use the front or rear flippers,” he adds.
And all of these adjustments are made automatically, via software, which means the boat operator just has to turn the wheel and steer. They don’t have to think about when to raise or lower the boat, it just happens when the boat reaches a certain speed. At less than six knots, the boat experiences 100 percent drag, while above eight knots the boat is “flying” and drag is reduced to 60 percent. This makes the ride less bumpy, too.
The lithium-ion batteries used by SeaBubbles are IP67 waterproof, and over time, the ship could make up for its high tag price, $ 200,000 at its suggested retail price, with savings on gasoline and lower maintenance costs.
The prototype version of the SeaBubbles boat has a range of only 1.5 hours and a battery recharge of five hours to show the technology. But the company claims that the versions that go into production have a range of 2.5 hours and a recharge of 35 minutes. These are the ones they hope to ship to early buyers this summer.
In addition to Miami, SeaBubbles also has clients in Russia, a luxury hotel in Moscow and an offer in St. Petersburg, as well as in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. He plans to start building ships for these markets and hopes to arrive in Paris this summer or next. In Paris, prototype boats run slower: takeoff speed is six knots, and cruising speed reaches 15 knots. The production version is faster due to the larger engines, with an average cruising speed of 16 knots and a top speed of 20 knots.
The company is in Miami this week to show its boat to more buyers and meet with local officials.
Bringdal admits that some of the company’s previous statements may have been too ambitious, like having ships in 50 cities by 2024. “I think it’s really step-by-step,” he says. “We are very happy to see something here in the US”
SeaBubbles, which has seven full-time employees and 25 people, including contractors, has raised $ 14 million to date from investors, including the founder of drone maker Parrot, Henri Seydoux; Partech Ventures; the BPI fund backed by the French government; MAIF, a French insurance group; as well as friends, family and other angels.
The company is preparing to lift a Series A.
(Photo credits: Alain Thébault and Sarah Perez)